Alexander Maclaren’s rolling in his grave.
When those most life-giving of Christian habits are overlooked, chaos and despair easily takeover
I’ve been reflecting on recent events, which, to be sure, are needless to detail. Suffice it to say, the last fourteen(ish) months have provided a plethora of distractions, some good, mostly bad. From my own perspective, I get the general feeling that the church at large is balling itself in its own angst over current events and future prospects. The church’s faith is tenuous, at best, right now, with tensions seemingly reaching critical mass and divisions feeling more polarized than ever. And I think there’s a very fundamental reason why this is so. Namely, because the church, by and large, has forfeited the two most basic of Christian practices: praying and reading the Bible. When those most life-giving of Christian habits are overlooked, chaos and despair easily takeover.
One of the saddest verses in the canon of Scripture is the closing verse of Judges:
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever seemed right to him. (Judg. 21:25)
Such is the dismal state of affairs in which God’s people found themselves in those days: leaderless, listless, lost, self-interested. Israel’s future days were anything but bright. They were enduring an era of spiritual blindness, political division, and economical deficiency — which sounds eerily familiar. These dreadful circumstances are further clarified in 1 Samuel 3, which recounts the Lord’s call of “the boy Samuel.” “In those days,” we are told, “the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread” (1 Sam. 3:1). God’s voice (his Word) had become a thing of the past, a tired tradition all but forgotten to time.
God’s Word had largely been abandoned and, therefore, had no bearing on Israel’s present experiences. Proclamations were rare; prophecies were rarer still. God’s oracles had gone silent. Though in one sense it’d be right to say that “God had gone silent,” it’d be more accurate to say that “God’s people had gone deaf.” They were no longer listening to the truth of God’s Word. Instead, they were doing whatever felt right to them. “Whatever seemed right to” their eyes, that’s what they did. No wonder Israel was so crestfallen. No wonder they were in such disarray. No wonder they were so despairing. The byproduct whenever God’s Word is disregarded is always desperation. That was true for Israel. And I’d say that’s true for the American church, too.
The reason the church is in such disarray in these days is because the average churchgoer doesn’t know how to read their Bible. If they read or study their Bible at all, it’s shallow, skimming only the surface of what the Scriptures has to say. In general, the church doesn’t have a “robust and firm grasp of the gospel.” Rather, as Alexander Maclaren attests, we’ve been trying to along on only a “starvation diet of Scripture.” He writes:
I am very much afraid that people do not read their Bibles very much now (or if they do read them, they not study them), and that anything like an intelligent familiarity with the whole sweep of the great system (for it is a system) of Divine truth, evolved “at sundry times and in divers manners” in this Word, is a very rare thing amongst even good people. They listen to sermons, with more or less attention; they read newspapers, no doubt; they read good little books, and magazines, and the like; and volumes that profess to be drawn from Scripture. These are all right and good in their place. But sure I am that a robust and firm grasp of the gospel, “which is the grace of God,” is not possible with a starvation diet of Scripture. And so I would say, try to get hold of the depth and width of meaning in the Word.1
I wonder what Rev. Maclaren would say now? He’s probably rolling in his grave at the aggregate nonchalance towards Scripture evidenced in the church.
Considering how divisive and vitriolic and frantic evangelicalism writ large is, in its current state, is it honestly that surprising? I’m both stunned and not stunned when I read religious news stories and get the latest happenings in the church universal. Christians are acting out of fear, not faith. We’re caught fretting over the future instead of forging ahead in the present because we’ve seemingly forgotten who’s throne is in the heavens. The reason we’re so frantic is because we’ve relegated the Bible to tweets and Pinterest quotes rather than making it a part of our everyday life. Indeed, it’s my estimation that many of the problems which exist in the church would dissipate if the Scriptures would regain a preeminent position in the lives of every churchgoer.
I don’t mean to suggest that simply reading the Bible is the panacea for every world problem. However, I do mean to suggest that reading (and studying) the Bible tethers the reader to a hope that is far more solid than anything this world postures as security. A hope that doesn’t give way, doesn’t crack, doesn’t move notwithstanding what this present life hurls at it. And that’s because this hope is nothing less than the solid rock truth of Christ alone for you. Putting your faith in Jesus’s word of truth steadies your feet on a rock. And if the Rock isn’t moved, neither will you be. Indeed . . .
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.2
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944), 16:2.153.
Edward Mote, “My hope is built on nothing less” (1834).