That subject line was the last line of an apology sent by someone who had walked away from the church I was leading more than a decade ago. What brought on the contrite heart and the statement? To answer that I’ve got to go back some 13 years to 2003.
We were planting a church in Colorado Springs, CO and after the launch I was teaching some new leaders. In that teaching I said this: “Be careful not to make the Bible your idol. We don’t worship the Bible. In fact, people don’t even have to believe the bible to become Christ followers.” Immediately you could see in this one leader’s eyes a fire that basically heard that statement as hearsay. There was so much shock and anger in his eyes that I thought he was about to say, “Get the torches folks, we’ve got to kill the heretic!”
- John 5:39 where Jesus basically said the same thing to the religious leaders of his day. He said: “You study the scriptures diligently because you think in them you have eternal life. These scriptures testify about me.” In other words, you are so deep into the Bible that you’ve missed the One that the Bible is telling you about! Studying the scriptures had become more important than the One who had given them the scriptures!
- John 17:17 where Jesus prays, “Sanctify them by YOUR truth – YOUR Word is truth.” There’s a great little play on words there by Jesus where he is saying – God is the Truth and His true Word is what is used to reveal Him as Truth. I like the way the Basic English Bible translates that verse: “Set them apart by Your Truth which is revealed in the truth of Your Word.” Once again we find that God is to be honored above the scripture He is revealed in.
God is the Truth. The Bible is simply the conduit by which we learn of that Truth. We dare not get that backwards. Sometimes I see believer’s intent on “digging deeper in the scriptures” when they haven’t even scraped the surface of obeying the scriptures they already know. It’s as if information has become their idol and they fall to worshiping the Bible rather than the One revealed in it. And why not? Isn’t it easier to just pour in more knowledge rather than practically applying the knowledge you already have?
That’s why something that Andy Stanley said at a Drive Conference a few years ago resonated with me so deeply. He said: “’The Bible says…’ is not a good starting point for many people today. The bible doesn’t really say or teach anything. Specific authors in the Bible say things and teach. The Bible is not a book but 66 manuscripts that reveal what God through the Holy Spirit led writers to say.”1 Don’t forget that for the first 250 years or so of the church people did not have a “bible” like we do today. And yet, they turned the world upside down without the “book.”
Now, please don’t misunderstand. I believe the Bible to be inerrant, God breathed and a book like no other. But, I do not believe it was ever meant to be idolized or used as a substitution for the Author. We must be careful not to lift the Bible so high that it obscures the One the Bible seeks to lift up! For the most part, people must first see the transforming truth of Him who the Bible reveals in us, before they will give the Bible any credibility.
So, I come full circle to the communication from my friend. I’m not sure what prompted it but I received a note from him which at the end eloquently said this: “I was wrong to walk out. I’ve learned that at the time of your teaching I wasn’t spiritually mature enough to receive it. Now, I get it – it’s all about HIM, not it.”
Yeah, I’d say he gets it.
1 You can find a more thorough explanation of Andy’s line of thinking in his book, Deep & Wide, 2016, Zondervan. P.246-252. (Paperback ed)