The Bible among us
as we meet
God's Word is a great joy to us. What would we do without our bibles? I remember at the first meetings I attended in my youth, each of us had a bible. In those days they were black, with leather covers, and had been 'authorised' by King James in 1611. I remember the front sitting room of an old lady's house, with lace curtains hiding the street outside. Each one of us had our bible open at the same place, and the 'study' was something we all contributed to. One or two of us had reference bibles, which were invaluable in showing where to find another scripture on the subject under discussion. One, the most daring, had a 'Moffatt' - which put the text into modern (1920s) English, and sometimes even altered the order of verses because of what scholars had suggested. We were, in a real sense, bible students, and had put aside other books which told us what to think, and we shared the open pages of God's Word.
It was a contrast in later life when I attended a church service at which the bible was used differently. Here, there was only one bible, which was read aloud by a person in robes, as a matter of form. The reading over, the service moved on to a completely different topic, it was as if the scripture reading had never happened. How strange! Was there some magic in God's words being spoken, whether or not we had listened, or understood? Looking around, I wondered how lively was the attention the congregation had paid. The experience was a shock to my system, but I have since found that not all church services are like that.
A different kind of surprise came to me more recently, though actually it was part of an old tradition. I found myself in the congregation at a beautifully performed act of worship. The prayers were meaningful, the hymns were sung heartily and with understanding, and in spite of a certain unease about vestments and candles, I found I could sincerely take part. Then, of a sudden, the whole group of those leading the service went in procession to the centre of the building. Everybody there had stood to face what was going on. A bible was held up.
"Alleluia... Speak Lord for your servant is listening..."
"You have the words of eternal life." "Alleluia."
"Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." "Glory to you, O Lord."
A passage from Matthew 13 was read. The group of leaders clustered round, intent on the reading. It might have been like this the first time the scriptures were ever read aloud to a body of believers.
"This is the Gospel of the Lord." "Praise to you, O Christ."
The group returned to their places at the front, and everything came back to normal. There was a sermon. It was a good sermon, based in part on a verse in the reading (it was the passage about bringing out from the storehouse things old and new). The little ritual in the centre of the church had been intended to recognise the honour in which we hold the gospel, and our intention to listen. Perhaps it did help in this.
So, it is a great joy to experience God's Word. By this, I do not mean reading the bible uncritically. There are many different versions nowadays, some with as many errors as the KJV. But what really matters is that God should speak through the printed word to our hearts and minds. He speaks through His Word, and we should be alert to His voice (not forgetting that He is not limited, and can speak in many different ways and in many places). Neither do I mean studying the bible critically, for study brings a reward according to the mind set with which we approach it. The students with whom I grew up finished in two separate groups studying different scriptures in separate houses - and saying hard things about one another. How sad. As we study, we must accept His love in our hearts and informing our minds. When this is the case, it is then that His Word gives us the greatest joy.