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Bible Illiteracy in the Church in America
The alarming news
Charles Spurgeon once said, "A Bible that’s falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t.” A Bible that is falling apart is a well used Bible. But it is a distressing fact that Bible illiteracy has become a pervasive problem in the American Church. Although 25 million Bibles are sold in the U.S. each year, apparently many are simply décor for the coffee table, props for church, or for the occasional chance to break in a new dust rag. Spurgeon said it was the same in his day - "...we have no book that is so much bought, and then so speedily laid aside, and so little used, as the Bible." Bible illiteracy has led to spiritual malnutrition resulting in a distorted, unbiblical worldview, bad theology or outright false teaching, and a compromised or carnal life.
If you are a statistical kind of person take a look a the startling realities of Bible illiteracy, determined by a study by LifeWay Research:
- Nine out of 10 homes in the U.S. have a Bible. Yet...
- Only 16 percent of church goers read the Bible daily. And...
- Twenty five percent don't read it at all.
- Thirty seven percent of those who attend church regularly say that reading and studying the Bible has made a significant difference in the way they live their lives.
There is really no reason for believers in the Unites States of America to be Bible illiterate. Bible's of every size, shape, translation (although there are some bad translations out there), and form are available. Modern technology affords people special apps with the Bible on it, and there is Kindle. There are websites, such as Bible Gateway and Blue Letter Bible in which you can search the Bible, read the Bible, and dozens of commentaries thrown in for good measure. There are Bibles on CD.
Reasons some Christians don't read their Bibles
This all begs the question, why do so many Christians in America today decline to read their Bible's regularly? Here are just a few reasons, many are interconnected:
The Bible is boring:
They have wrong motives for reading it; have grown lukewarm in their faith and love for Jesus; They may have hard hearts; or Bible reading has become a duty.
The Bible makes no sense: The Bible is inspired by God's Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible must be spiritually discerned, and it is the Holy Spirit who teaches and enlightens us (1 Cor. 2:9-13). The nominal Christian does not spiritually discern the Word because He is likely not walking in or seeking the Spirit. He looks at the Word of God through the lens of his own understanding.
They don't understand the importance of it: Here again there seems to be a problem with understanding what the Bible is, why it was sent to us, and how it can be useful in our lives. Indifference could play a part. Indifference is a very dangerous, and foolish attitude. CS Lewis said, "The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference." Indifference to the word is indifference toward God. And this is heartbreaking.
They take it for granted: I cherish my Bible a great deal, I read it often (but I could stand to read it much more), and I cling to it as God's word of truth, but if I am to be completely honest, I felt convicted when I saw a video of Chinese underground brothers and sisters weeping and kissing the Bibles they received for the first time. In contrast, most Christians in the U.S. have at least two, and likely three or four in a variety of translations, sizes, colors and print. Many have notes, cross references, and concordances. I would be horribly ashamed to have a Chinese brother or sister who had never laid hands on a Bible come to America and see us lazy Christians willing away the hours watching Youtube music videos, fiddling on our phones, watching TV or DVD's, while our three dusty, like new Bibles sit on the coffee table being neglected.
Why is it important for believers to read the Bible regularly?
Why is it important for believers to read the Bible? Why should we take it so seriously and what can it do for us? The best way to answer these questions is to see what the Bible has to say about the Bible:
2 Tim. 3:16-17 All Scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.
This is probably the most comprehensive verse providing us with the answer to the questions above. First of all, the Bible is important for the Christian because it is God breathed. It is His word. Breathing indicates life. That's the most important reason. Notice it says all Scripture, not just parts of it. The rest of the verse tells us how the Bible profits us - for teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness, and equipping the saints for service.
Rom. 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Here we see once again the Bible is for our instruction, but it goes on to mention endurance, encouragement and hope. Have you ever gone to the word and come away encouraged and hopeful by some promise or instruction? I have.
Psalm 119:9-11 How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your Word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
I love this verse. We see that God's word is so precious to this psalmist that he has stored it in his heart so he will remain pure and not sin against God. This person is fully devoted and surrendered to God which has given him an insatiable hunger to know God's word, God's heart, and to keep himself clean before the Lord.
Is 55:1-For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
God sent His word to us so that as it works in us we will bear fruit, thus accomplishing his purpose and reason for sending it. He didn't send it just so we could read it and go our merry way. His word is meant to accomplish something in our lives if we apply it.
What the Bible says about the Bible
Eph. 6:13-17 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins gird about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
This familiar passage as we all know is speaking about spiritual warfare. Notice here that Word of God is an offensive weapon, whereas everything else listed is armour. It does you no good to have yourself covered up with armour without a weapon, because the enemy will still beat you down. The sword of the Spirit is the weapon used to attack the devil and sending him home with his tail between his legs. Jesus used the Word of God many times to combat His enemies. In the wilderness He used the word to satan and triumphed over him. He used the Word when setting the pharisees in their place.
John 8: 32 And you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
John 17:17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
Acts 17:10-11 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
The first two verses establish that the Bible is truth. The Berean's knew this and that is why they didn't take Paul's or anyone else's word for it. When they heard the teaching and preaching, they went home, opened their scrolls to make sure they were getting the truth.
Ps. 19:7 he law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of theLord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Josh. 1:8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
We are meant to meditate on God's word day and night. God is telling Joshua here that if he reads and meditates on the God's word regularly, and obeys it, then God's will and plans will prosper and succeed.
Online Bible Study and Reference Tools
Reading the Bible does have its challenges
In all fairness, we do need to concede that Bible study can be challenging. Even people who have been reading the Bible regularly for many years come across passages and stories that are very difficult to understand.
People who read and meditate on the Bible with regularity do open it sometimes and yawn. Sometimes you open it and you feel or get nothing out of it (it's the same with prayer). You might look at a verse or small passage and have to read it again and again, but you still draw a blank. Sometimes we can read a great truth, promise or picture of how magnificent God is and just not feel it with any depth. These times are often followed with unemotional, going-through-the- motions prayers. It can be very discouraging. This is a time to get out a notebook and write down what the passage means, what it says to you. Then pray and ask God to hide it in your heart.
The house built upon the rock
Therefore, everyone who hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock (Matt. 7:24-25).
Believers in Jesus Christ who regularly read their Bible, meditate on it, and apply it to their lives, will live the abundant life and stay strong in their walk when the winds of life buffet them.
The house built upon the sand
But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall (Matt. 7:26-27).
A sandy foundation in this context would be a foundation built on anything but the Bible. A spiritual house built on something other than the Bible will fall to pieces when testing comes. Once again, Jesus addresses this in the parable of the sower.
Read, discover, grow
There are many more passages that tell us about the value and necessity of God's word in the life of his people. If we read we will discover who God is and how we can know Him and grow. But I will let you read it and discover it's wonders yourself.
“Blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (Luke 11:28).
Dust On the Bible - Hank Williams Sr.
Bible Study Reference Tools
Concordance - This a book that has every word in the Bible listed with the corresponding verse. I recommend Strong's Exhaustive Concordance.
Bible Dictionary - These give definitions of words in the Bible. They are not exhaustive, but depending on the one you buy, the basics plus some will be found. I use Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. There is an Old Testament section where the original language was Hebrew, but the words are in English followed by the Hebrew word. The New Testament section represents Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages common in 1st century Israel. Hebrew and Greek words often have more than one meaning, so it will give you every definition that is used in the Bible with the corresponding verses.
Bible handbook - Erdmans Handbook of the Bible is a classic. This is a great little reference book for new and seasoned Bible readers alike. This book is filled with information formatted in an easy to read style. It gives you brief cultural and historical information from the Old and New Testaments with lots and lots of pictures, customs in Bible times, maps galore, brief synopses of Bible books by the chapter (again, with lots of photos) and so much more. A must have for your library.
Devotionals - These are little books that share a verse or passage and then stories or commentary by the author. They come in such a wide variety of styles. See my hub Great Devotionals Past and Present. But I do recommend Daily Light the most.
Commentaries - These are books that explain the meaning of verses and chapters in the Bible. There are many great ones. For the new person, I would recommend a one volume commentary titled Believer's Bible Commentary. It's very user friendly and easy reading.
© 2013 Lori Colbo