Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Offense of Bibliolatry

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly..." Colossians 3:16

In the May 2006 issue of American Legion (one of the homebound in the church I serve gives me his copy when he is done with it), there is an article about the treatment of detainees at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The article dispels myths that detainees are treated harshly. They receive three good meals a day and full medical treatment. They have a basketball court and soccer field. Each cell even has an arrow that points east, toward Mecca, so that the Muslim detainees know which direction to pray at the appointed times. Guards handle copies of the Koran, the sacred literature of Islam, cradled in a surgical mask, respecting the Muslim belief that infidels should not be allowed to defile their holy book by touching it.

This handling of the Koran caught my attention because it illustrates the great reverence that Muslims have for their holy book. It graphically represents dedication of devotion to the study of their sacred literature, a lesson all Christians should heed. As a pastor I hear all the time about a church member having read a certain book and how greatly it impacted their walk with the Lord. This excites me! Church members reading Christian books to gain a deeper understanding of God's Word elicits great approval from me. However, in no way should this ever take the place of the regular reading, study, and memorization of God's Word.

Church folks are intimate with the words of Rick Warren, David Jeremiah, and Chuck Swindoll, yet only fairweather friends with the Word itself. Those who place the words of mere men above the Word of God are walking on thin ice. It is a mistake to elevate mans' opinions of a matter over that of the Biblical Author. A church member once accused me of bibliolatry. Frankly, I had not heard that word before and I was concerned, so I asked her what she meant. She responded by telling me that I had more respect for "that book" than Jesus Himself. I patiently tried to explain, but to no avail, that to not know Christ's Word is to not know Him. How else can we know Him?

In Christian experience there seems to be a great emphasis on the subjective and the elevation of that subjective experience over that of biblical revelation. Subjectivity has its place in the life of a conscientious Christian. However, it should never supersede that which God has revealed to us in the Bible. What is read in God's Word ought to temper and shape those subjective experiences. I am not doubting that God does not work in supernatural ways anymore; what I am saying is that it is not the norm because we have a completed canon of Scripture.

Joanne Shetler wrote a fascinating book called And the Word Came with Power. Ms. Shetler was a Wycliffe Bible translator working among the Balangao people of the Philippines. Ms. Shetler chronicles in her book how the Word of God literally transformed the Balangao culture. Demons were haunting the Balangao people, driving them to sacrifice their choice livestock, divine with butchered animals' bile, and to give in to every superstition the spirits bade them obey. However, Ms. Shetler, in spite of the fear of the people whom she loved, children dying at the hands of merciless spirits, and blood spilt daily, she continued to learn their language and translate the New Testament.

Ms. Shetler then prayed a bold prayer: "God, show the Balangaos that You're stronger than the Spirits. Make the Balangaos desire You; help them believe Your Word." Amazingly, and not apart from His Word, God answered that prayer. Here is an excerpt from her book (pp. 87-88).
After a while the Bible studies following Melisa's death waned. Then one day Ama [Ms. Shetler's adopted Balangao father] casually picked up an English New Testament from my shipping-crate desk. He opened it to the first page, Matthew 1, which is a list of names. He stood frozen, staring at it. Incredulous, he asked me, "You mean this has a genealogy in it?"

I said, "Yeah, but just skip over that so you can get to the good part."

"You mean this is true?" he asked. Eyes riveted to the page, he struggled through the list of names.

Something's going on here! I got some shelf paper and made a genealogy from Adam to Jesus, from the ceiling down to the floor. Ama took it all over the village. He carefully explained, "We always thought it was the rock and the banana plant that gave birth to people. Look, here are ALL the names--written down!"

A genealogy written was powerful. Balangaos loved that genealogy from the Gospel of Matthew. It proved the Bible was true: for the first time they had the actual names from the beginning of the world--written down.
That genealogy rocked the Balangao world--turned it upside down! A reading like this will cause you to never skip over those long genealogies ever again in your daily Bible reading plan. Imagine, that if God can transform an entire culture from a genealogy, think about what He could do in our lives and in the life of His precious church if Christians indeed obeyed Paul's admonishment, "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly."

The Holy Scriptures ought to be at the forefront of every Christian's mind. This is what Paul meant when he said that the word of Christ should dwell in you richly. Like the prophet Jeremiah, His word ought to be like a fire shut up in your bones. The Word of God ought to be all-consuming, soul-searching, and sin-revealing. If one truly desires to be like Christ, he will then dedicate himself to Christ's book. Do not place subjective experience with Christ above His objective revelation, because Christ will never do anything contrary to His Word.

I was once accused of elevating knowing Scripture above knowing Jesus. I responded that if one is to know Christ, then he will know His book. Like the detainees at Guantanomo Bay, I have a holy reverence and fear for the holy book God has given to us. I am not so foolish that I handle it cradled in a surgical mask, for fear that I might wrinkle the pages. My Bible is open, marked up, wrinkled, the cover cracked and faded. These are the tell-tale signs of a reverently treated Bible. A church member once showed me a ragged, beaten up Bible with the binding just barely hanging together. The pages were dog-eared, written on, and rumpled, which in many places looked like tear stains. She proudly said, "This was my daddy's Bible." I myself also swelled with pride at that statement. The maxim is trite and overused but nonetheless true; a Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn't.

May God bless you as you earnestly seek to know Him through His Word.



Gordon Cloud said...

Great article. That illustration about the Bible translator was awesome.

Tony said...


Once again, thanks for the encouraging words. I have enjoyed plugging through your archives at HH. Hope to see a new article soon.

Kindest regards,

Darrell said...

Tony, that is excellent! I am also a pastor, and I am going to link from my blog over to yours for people to read this.

And... welcome to the blogging world!

Darrell said...

Tony, that is excellent! I am also a pastor, and I am going to link from my blog over to yours for people to read this.

And... welcome to the blogging world!

Tony said...


Wow, thanks! I appreciate the link and especially the encouraging words! And BTW, Happy Birthday to one year of blogging!

His Grace,