We sang this song in my years growing up. Often! It became the mantra of every Bible-teaching church it seems, for many of you have heard it as well.
Question: "Is it true?" Does reading the Bible make you grow?
Answer? It depends. I'd like to present two seemingly opposing points of view on this. Seemingly, because in the end it will be seen that they do not conflict at all. They actually combine to surface one of reasons the church of today suffers from spiritual anemia.
FIRST. You don't have to READ the Bible to grow spiritually.
Don't quit reading this post! Not yet. Please hear me out. I definitely believe in reading the Bible; I've personally been reading through the Scriptures since I was 15. And, of course, I have absolutely no regrets at all. What a tremendous blessing has come to me through the intake of God's Word. But I'm making another point.
The church indeed does stress reading the Bible, but the fact is there used to be a time when reading the Bible simply was NOT an option. Not that long ago, literacy was a real luxury not enjoyed by very many. Most early church attenders heard the Word read to them for two reasons, 1) there were no Bibles for everyone, and 2) not everyone could read. According to Gene Edwards (The Secret to the Christian Life) "illiteracy was not a sign of ignorance. . . Literacy was a trade similar to cabinet making or television repair." As we know, before Gutenberg, books were not readily available, and for those who could afford them they were quite rare. Edwards offers that "before 1700 . . . the ability to read and write did not become a viable force in the general human society." Even in Martin Luther's day, "when the printed word had been credited with bringing in the Reformation, the maximum number of people who would read what Luther wrote stood at about 5 percent! And even as late as 1800, 85 percent of all Southern boys who fought in the Civil War could not read, and of those who could, they were only semi-literate."
Did Jesus require that before he selected the disciples, they had to take a reading test? We know that in the Old Testament and in the early Church, one had to attend synagogue or a house church (respectively) in order to hear the Word of God. We understand that Hebrew children were required to memorize great portions of Scripture so that they could refer to it in that fashion. Scrolls were not as abundant nor mobile as our Bibles.
Well, if so many in Bible days, or in succeeding generations could not read, how can we affirm that "unless you read your Bible, you cannot be a good Christian?" I think this is valid question. No one is arguing that illiteracy is to be preferred to literacy. No. Of course not. But the question remains and it is a good one. How DOES one go about knowing God better if he doesn't read?
I will give you what Gene Edwards teaches though I cannot fill in all the details today. But I wanted to give enough to understand 1) the depth of the question, and 2) the loss we've been suffering due to our failure to implement the very presence of God. Gene Edwards says,
"We believers, whose ranks are spread among tribes and nations over this planet, have but one common factor among us: a living, moving, speaking Lord who dwells inside each of us. That the indwelling Lord is the only one with the resources to live the Christian life. To point to anything else as the answer to the Christian life cuts off most of us from effectively living the Christian life.""It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God . . ." (Gal. 2:20). "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3).
HOW ABOUT BOTH?
"Wouldn't it be better," you ask, "if we had both, if we read God's Word AND pursued the indwelling living, breathing power of the Spirit of God within us?" Yes, that of course is to be preferred. But by isolating the reading from the indwelling Spirit, we are enabled to acclimate ourselves to God's initial intention IN HIS WORD. He never meant for us to divorce reading from himself. "Abide in me" (John 15:4). Indeed, Jesus IS the Word become flesh (John 1:14), whom we must eat (John 6) if we are to be saved. The two go hand in hand. Reading alone does not breathe God's life into the Church or into any individual. Yet, God could and did breathe life into the soul of many who have not been able to take advantage of the written word in their own possession.
Tomorrow, Part 2 - Yes, read God's Word, but read it the RIGHT way. What's that?