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13 March 2012

Why do we want to be Bible-centred?

John Risbridger (LT pics 2016) John Risbridger Minister
Bible open on table in auditorium

In 2011, the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible, John Risbridger took the opportunity to answer these questions and give us a fresh perspective on our core value to be Bible-centred. (Previously published in InVision, issue 1.) We’ll cover all four of our church values in this mini-series.

Doesn’t being Bible-centred end up meaning we worship the Bible rather than Jesus

Haven’t Christians today largely given up on regular Bible reading because of the pressures of life?

Aren’t we in danger of spending so much time reading the Bible that we don’t have time to do anything for God?

In 2010 the Evangelical Alliance (to which we are affiliated as a church) conducted a major survey of about seventeen thousand Christians in the UK attending evangelical churches and conferences. Some of their findings are quite striking:

  • 93% strongly agree that the Bible is the inspired word of God.
  • 82% read (or listen) to the Bible several times each week, though the practice of daily Bible reading is less common in under 45s.
  • The research clearly shows that those people who spend more time reading the Bible each week are more active in other areas of their faith. They are more likely to volunteer, to give money, to pray frequently and talk about their faith.

James Catford, CEO of the Bible Society, shared this story as a response to the survey:

“I once challenged a senior Communist government official in China that he should encourage more people to become Christians.

‘Why?’ he asked.

‘Because’, I responded, ‘Christians do more volunteering, give more money to charity and care more about the welfare of society.’”

He concludes,

“This research shows how true this is for Britain. We shouldn’t be surprised. The more we hear God speak to us through the Bible, the more vibrant our life will become.”

So if we want to be an active, vibrant church it is crucial that we are committed to being a Bible-centred church.

As we have seen recently, God does want to bless us and the Bible is one of the main ways he uses to bring that blessing into our lives. Christians who know God is blessing them tend to be those who reach out to become a blessing to others.

But doesn’t being Bible-centred mean we end up worshipping the Bible?

Well, if it does it’s because we’re not really being Bible-centred, because the Bible itself is Jesus-centred! The Old Testament promises him; the gospels announce his coming; the rest of the New Testament unpacks his person and work and teaches us to live as his people. The Bible doesn’t point to itself, it points beyond itself to Jesus, revealing to us God’s ultimate purpose that ‘in everything he should have the supremacy’ (Colossians 1:18). Therefore being truly Bible-centred is not about worshipping the Bible as an end in itself, but rather about worshipping the Christ whom the Bible reveals and lining up our lives with his mission in the world.

But doesn’t regular Bible reading feel more like a legalistic duty than a grace-receiving blessing?

Well it can do, but it doesn’t have to. If I want a great friendship to grow I need to have a certain amount of determination to give time to invest in that relationship. I don’t do it out of legalistic duty; I do it because I value the friendship and want to bring that person more deeply into my life. Regular Bible reading is similar: treat it as a legalistic duty and it will probably leave you cold but see it as an opportunity to welcome the life-giving, Christ-revealing, grace-affirming word of God into your life and it will be a blessing to you. But it still takes some effort and determination.

The Evangelical Alliance survey’s finding that the practice of daily Bible reading is less common among the under 45s should make us think. Without doubt, pressures on many in that age group are very intense today and we need to be realistic. Perhaps it is more important that we read the Bible regularly than that we only value the daily ‘quiet time’ approach. However, it would doubtless encourage and motivate those who struggle in this area to hear more about the way in which God is using regular Bible reading to bring his blessing into our lives. Why not share your own experiences of God blessing you through his word in you home group or cluster meeting? Surely being a Bible-centred church means encouraging each other to keep reading the Bible.

So what does it mean in practice for us to be a Bible-centred church?

It means seeking to let the Bible govern and lead us in the way we develop our relationships with each other and the way we develop our church’s life and direction.

It means speaking the Bible into each other’s lives as we develop relationships with each other in which God is ‘on the agenda’ and within which we want to help each other grow.

It means taking the Bible’s message into our communities through our clusters, small groups and city-centre ministries.

It means letting the Bible shape our engagement with global mission, so that we come together as a whole church to play our part in bringing the whole of the gospel message to the whole of the world.

It means teaching our children and young people to read the Bible and see its relevance for their lives.

It means continuing our commitment to ‘letting the Bible say what the Bible says’ through systematic teaching in our Sunday services.

It means helping each other see how the Bible speaks into the issues of our workplace, our homes and our wider community.

It means that we want the Bible to set a Christ-centred agenda for us in our worship and praise.

It means playing our part in Bible translation so that all peoples can read or hear the Bible in their own language.

Biblefresh – a celebration and a challenge

In 2011 we celebrate the publication of the King James Version of the Bible and the ‘Biblefresh’ initiative is helping us make the most of this significant anniversary both within our culture and within the church. However, most of us would find it difficult to read regularly from the King James Version of the Bible – our language and culture have changed so much since it was written. So what does this anniversary mean for us?

For me the most powerful answer to that question lies in what I recently experienced in Ghana. It was my immense privilege to stand with Keir and Gillian Hansford and their team of local translators and literacy workers, as they publicly dedicated the Chumburung Bible and began to give it to the people.

I was deeply moved as I stood and watched Chumburung people holding a copy of the Bible in their own language for the first time in their history. As I reflected on that experience later on, it struck me that the equivalent moment in the history of the English-speaking world was the publication of the King James Versions – a Bible in the language of the people, made available on a large scale.

So for us the 400th anniversary of the publication is not just a cultural celebration, neither must it be about trying to force today’s church to express itself in the cultural form of the 17th century. We should see it rather as a fresh opportunity and challenge to welcome the word of God into our lives and into the life of our church community, just as the Chumburung people are welcoming the Bible into their lives and community. It’s also a time to pray that our society more widely will hear the message of the Bible again and give it a new welcome in 21st century Britain.

In January 2011 we came together with Christians from churches across our city to pray in exactly that way. It was a wonderful evening and much of our prayer focused on Colossians 3:16–17:

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

The word of Christ dwelling richly in our teaching, our worship and our whole lives: I can’t think of a more inspiring vision of what it means for us to be a Bible-centred church! And surely it is only such a church, in which the word of Christ is dwelling richly, that is able to take that word into our society today.

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