The Silent Resurrection

easter celebration white house_0.mediumOnce again it is that time of the year when all the world is a buzz concerning Easter. It is a word that mean different things to different people. For some, it may simply be about bunnies, eggs, and a spectacular meal with family and friends. For others it is described as “the most important festival in the Christian calendar” (BBC). The latter view is held by Christians who accept this time of the year as a celebration period marking the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its association with the resurrection seems to make it an untouchable topic. To engage in analytical conversations concerning Easter with Christians is to, in a sense, disrupt the rapture-like mood of the season. In fact, this is true of anyone who celebrates something during this time. It seems that the intellect is placed to the side when celebration comes. This author dares to venture in anyway.

There has been many commentaries and discussions on the usage of the word “Easter.” Connections to paganism has been made, especially to Eastre, a saxon goddess associated with spring, and the Zidonian goddess Ashtoreth (1 Kings 11:5; 11:33; 2 Kings 23:13). Candida Moss,   Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, not only argues that similarity in pronunciation of words from one language to another and “dying and rising gods” in a variety of religions is insufficient to say that there was borrowing, but that the argument about borrowing shouldn’t be the focus of Christianity (CNN).

The origin of the word is not an issue to me. However, I understand and accept why it can be an issue for others. There is a case to be made for not using words that have historic associations with things that do not represent, or are at odds with, Christianity. This argument is often brushed aside as an ultra-conservative concern. This concern merits considerable attention on the part of those involved in how matters of faith are communicated. Ignoring this concern builds a foundation which will quickly allow usage of words that are more recent and troubling.

The meaning and usage of some words do change over time. The current season is a great example of how true this is. I’ve never heard any celebrant of Easter make a claim of praising a futility goddess. To say they are doing so sub-consciously, in my humble opinion, is also not a credible argument. Oftentimes, in order to prove a point, an argument will be advanced and supported by cliché like statements with no credible analysis to support the claims made. These and tactics such as intentional misrepresentations serve no purpose and should never be use in discussions of such magnitude in Christian circles.

If Easter is the celebration of the bodily resurrection of Christ by those who believe that there was such a thing then why is there not much talk on the resurrection? Sure many will flock to the churches during holy week–Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday–to hear meditations and sermons concerning what took place before and as a result of the crucifixion, but  why is it so quiet outside? Why hasn’t this bold belief concerning the coming to life of a crucified and buried savior not cause believers to spread the message like wildfire?

It seems that the Easter celebration period is not a time for evangelization. Rather, it is a time of reflection for those who are already believers. In other words the way Easter is currently celebrated is deprived of missionary expectations. Christians spend the time thinking and talking about the resurrection with each other. The outside world knows of the celebration but it’s not because Christians are going out to tell them. (This is not to say that there are no Christians talking about the resurrection. If this was the case the rocks would have cried out.) They know it because the media speaks on it. Thus, the resurrection, an event that caused the grieving disciples of Jesus to be strengthen and press on with the mission given, doesn’t seem to be motivational enough to get cultural Christianity–Christians that simply uphold ecclesiastical traditions–up off the couch and out of the pews to explain the story to the outside world.

Perhaps one of the hindrances to this missionary approach is lack of knowledge concerning the resurrection. How can Christians be expected to tell of a story they don’t know much about? This is an opinion and has no tangible support. But, I suspect that if churches were to assign a 100 word essay to their members to describe what happened before and after the crucifixion, they would be surprised. Assuming to know because we have heard it from the lips of another before is not proof that we know. The only way to know if what was heard was accurate is to investigate it from the primary source.

The lack of a major missional buzz from believers is proof that most are not reading and thinking of the resurrection. It is impossible to believe that all of that is being done and it only produce a few passionate souls. Christianity is prayerfully reading and thinking about the resurrection and only a handful feel moved to speak to the world? I think not. What’s likely is that most of us are not praying and reading, and as a result, no fire burns to share what is learned.

As an Adventist, I’m aware that there has always been major conflicts within our ranks concerning what to do with Easter. Where we have found common ground is not in a festival that incorporates imagery from all sorts of origins, but in reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, we don’t seem to be different from the rest of Christendom when it comes to sharing during this time. We are plagued with the same issue: a resurrection spoken of only at home and the church.

Is it the resurrection that produces silence? No. It’s our lack of understand of and appreciation for the significance of that resurrection. Somehow we have grown cold and are in dire need of a resurrection ourselves. At this time the best way to go about initiating this is to go back to the most important resurrection: that of Jesus Christ. May we study and experience a personal spiritual resurrection so we can talk about the risen one.

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The Allure of a Foul Mouth: Curse Words and the Church

imgres-3These days it seems like everybody uses curse words. Although those that monitor the usage of these words in the media call for censorship, they allow just the right amount of letters to slip out of the bleep so that the intended audience can have some idea what the word is supposed to be. This type of censorship reflects the attitude of the culture that it’s in. If a large amount of those that live within the culture were bothered by the usage of these words then the censorship committees would be hard-press not to bleep them completely, or better yet, rework the dialogue so that there wouldn’t be a need for bleeping.

The existence of a censoring committee is evidence that a large part of the audience is concerned about words. The committee would not have existed and any attempts to create one would have been strongly protested if a large majority of the audience was fiercely against it. The majority of the audience is not anticensorship and if they are, they are not passionate in their conviction. However, over time it seems that the committee has become more lenient in what it allows. The partial bleeping of certain words and the removal of some from the bleeping list–that is to say they are not curse words, or that they are acceptable curse words–are indications of the progressive leniency of the committee. It is only able to do so because a lenient audience allows it.

In its day to day interactions the audience uses a vast array of curse words. A curse word is used when one wants to degrade another, to express anger when something goes awry, or as an adjective in a sentence. It seems like there is no end to the type of ways curse words can be use. It has gotten to the point that if you don’t curse you stand out as an anomaly. The reason that this is possible is because the underlying drive that pushed not only the explosion of curse word usage, but nudity and the telling of what use to be classified as “private business,” is the self-expression mentality.

The mentality goes beyond simply being yourself. It’s about allowing the world to see who you are without care for what is considered right and wrong, no sense of morality. Everyone reveals things about themselves to some degree. It’s natural. However, this mentality allows for the extreme: the revealing of everything without care for the opinions of anybody else. It allows for rebellion to be glorified and to be viewed as how things ought to be.

What happened over time is that the mentality has also grabbed hold of most of those that it initially was reacting against. So now it’s not really a reaction, its a norm. Part of the norm is the constant use of curse words. It is in this environment that the Christian is found. Lo and behold curse words are heard more than ever on the lips of Jesus’ followers. Is it for the better or the worst? It’s easy to get an answer within the confines of a faith community. But how do young Christians sort their way through this complex environment?

The existence of a faith community entails not only that those within hold to the same beliefs but that those beliefs are reflected in their lifestyles. There are Christians that don’t curse. This does not mean that they’ve never said a curse word. It means that they rarely curse. They hold to the view that using foul language is wrong so they don’t use it. They tend to be more cautious with what they say and therefore choose their words carefully. They are viewed as anomalies for their rejection of the everything goes communication system.

There are Christians that curse. Some of these don’t want to do it and are struggling. Others are not really concern with stopping and feel that it’s completely acceptable if they use some choice words here and there to get their point across. Making the distinction between those that are struggling and those that don’t care is important because Christianity recognizes the inward struggle of the believer between what is right and wrong. Whereas foul language may be an issue for one, it’s not necessarily an issue for another. The one that it is not an issue for shouldn’t feel superior.

The Christian can’t allow cultural environment to alter classification on what is right and wrong without significant thought. Whereas on one hand the culture applauds those that mingle Christian views with itself, it is quick to identify certain behaviors as unfitting for those who profess Christianity. One of those behaviors is cursing. If you were to ask non-Christians: do Christians curse? They would say yes. If you were to ask them: should they be cursing? They would probably answer no.

The reason that a Christian should not curse can’t be base on wether or not the culture thinks so. It should be base on the meaning, the impact, and the intent behind the usage of the word. If this concept is difficult to understand it is because there exist a lack of exposure to biblical teachings on speaking. The teachings speak against the anything goes approach. Perhaps this is the reason why they do not receive sufficient attention. This automatically puts Christians at odds with their surroundings. They are then face with conforming to the biblical stance or going the way of all the earth.

How do we help young Christians? We need to teach them what the Bible says about speaking. Adults need to be aware of their speech. There is a dual effect when teaching and living flow together, They shouldn’t only be told about it, but they should see it. Perhaps part of the failure may be that a large amount of Christian adults are now cursing and so those that come after are simply following in their footsteps. Sometimes what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander.

The allure of the foul mouth will keep calling. This contra-Christian, rebellious, mystical way of being will attempt to sink its teeth on any Christian who dare to stare longingly. It’s time to show the better way of communicating. One in which countless neglected words in our languages are use to communicate effectively.

 

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Immediate Pre-Law Preparations in Exodus 19

Note: The first part of this article, Immediate Pre-law Preparations in Exodus 19, Part 1, was posted on February 9. This article contains both the first part and the rest of the author’s presentation of the so-called “immediate pre-law preparations.” This study is at its’ genesis stage and is not intended to be devotional. Points made here will be expanded at some other time.

INTRODUCTION

Lesson six of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, Glimpses of Our God,[1] is entitled “God the Lawgiver.”[2] The memory text is taken from the book of Isaiah: “For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us” (Isa. 33:22, NKJV). The objective of the lesson is to “look at the law and, by default, the Lawgiver.” The idea behind this objective is that “the law reveals the character of the lawgiver.” Thus, you can’t take one without the other. Seventh-day Adventists have always argued that “the law is a transcript of God’s character.” This lesson falls in line with that understanding.[3]

Sunday’s lesson, “The Law at Sinai”, is an investigation of Ex. 19:18, 19; 20:18; Deut. 5:22; Heb. 12:21; and Rom. 7:8-13. The Old Testament (OT) passages are used so that students may be able to describe God’s physical manifestation at Sinai at the giving of the law, and the Israelites response. Hebrews 12:21 is also a reference to the giving of the law in the OT. Romans 7 is brought in to explain the role of the law.

“The Law at Sinai” seems ill-titled. It doesn’t investigate the law itself. Rather, it investigates the reaction of the Israelites to God’s presence prior to the giving of the law (Ex. 19:18, 19), their post-law hearing reaction (Ex. 20:18, Deut. 5:22, and Heb. 12:21), and the role of the law (Rom. 7:8-13). In other words, it skips the law altogether. At the least, it should have been titled, “Reactions to the Law at Sinai.” Although that title still doesn’t include what is being addressed by Paul in Romans 7. (Too much fuss shouldn’t be made over titles.) This article addresses what I refer to as “the pre-law preparations” in Exodus 19.

LOCATION

The giving of the law to Israel took place in the midbar sinay (“wilderness of Sinai”). Sinay means “thorny.” Some scholars believe that this is the plain of er-Raha. It is a “bush-studded,” 2 miles long and ½ mi wide area, surrounded by mountains. Of course, one particular mountain, rising from the southeast of the area, is believed to be the actual mountain on which God descended and Moses received the tablets. Three days are given for when it is believed that the Israelites made it to Sinay: (1) the first day of Sivan [name of the third month—Jewish tradition supports this], (2) the 14th day of the month, or (3) the 15th.[4]

IMMEDIATE PRE-LAW PREPARATIONS

Prior to the giving of the law preparation was necessary. Chapter 19 may be viewed as the preparation chapter. (Some may wish to argue that Israel’s experience since God began their deliverance out of the hands of Pharaoh should be viewed as, what I’m “the pre-law preparations.” I have no quarrels with that). In fact, to be more precise, we may state that chapter 19 contains “immediate pre-law preparations.” The chapter immediately following contains the audible stating of the law by God Himself. I have divided the pre-law preparations into two sections: Immediate Pre-law Prep. 1 and Immediate Pre-law Prep. 2.

For the purpose of clarification, let me state exactly what I mean by “immediate pre-law preparations.” I’m using the title to refer to statements that comes prior to the giving of the law that calls for those who will receive the law to say, believe, or do something. I use the term “immediate” for Exodus 19 because it is the chapter that precedes the giving of the ten commandments.

Immediate Pre-Law Prep. 1

Pre-law prep. 1 refers to Exodus 19:3-8. In the selected verses, God’s first recorded communication to the people of Israel after their arrival at Sinay contains three distinct sections: (1) God’s stating of His act of deliverance [Ex. 19:4], (2) His desire for the obeying of the law (His voice) and keeping of the covenant [19:5a, b], and (3) what He will do in response to their obedience [19:5c. 6].

The first one is a declaration of what He has done for them in terms of their former status as slaves: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex. 19:4).[5] Thus, God not only calls them to recall His acts in Egypt, but also their post-Egyptian experience, which at this point, consists of their journey from Egypt to Sinay, from bondage to Himself.

The purpose of having them recall God’s deliverance and providence seems to be design to establish God’s intent to treat them as a special people prior to them promising any type of obedience. Since He is now promising them that they will be His “treasured possession,” “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” they knew that He would do it since He brought them to where they were, to Himself.

Whether one agree with this analysis or not, it still remains that in this section we have a promise to the people of Israel concerning their obedience to the law. Where some may take issue is the fact that Exodus 19:5 doesn’t ask for obedience to the law, but to God’s “voice.” This is correct. However, since the law is audibly stated in Exodus 20, it is to be included  as what is “heard” coming from God. Thus, pre-law prep. 1 one calls for the obeying of God’s voice and the keeping of the covenant.

Response to Pre-Law Prep. 1

Exodus 19:7 states that Moses presented God’s promise to “the elders.” However, the next verse states that “the people all responded together” (19:8). How the news got from the elders to the people is not explained. Perhaps Moses called the elders first and then they helped him inform the people concerning the proposal. No matter how it happened, the important point is that the people agreed. Agreeing to this first proposal wasn’t the only thing that God needed them to do prior to the giving of the ten commandments.

Immediate Pre-Law Prep. 2

Immediate pre-law prep. 2 is found in Exodus 19:10-15. Here, God commands that the people be “consecrated” and that they should wash their clothes prior to the meeting. They were to abstain from sexual activities. They are also told that they shouldn’t touch the mountain itself during the meeting. Not only were those that touch the mountain were to be stone and/or shot with arrows, but it seems that killing them by projectiles was to prevent others from being killed by touching them. In other words, if you touch those who touch the mountain, whatever befalls them would befall those that touch them.

This pre-law prep seems to be geared towards preparing the people for meeting God, rather than just the hearing of the law itself. The people were about to come face to face with Yahweh and therefore had to be prepared for that encounter. This type of preparation may not have been asked for if the law was to be given to the people by a person, rather than directly from God Himself. This may make some to consider pre-law prep. 2 as being a bit indirect (or secondary).

Response to Pre-Law Prep 2.

The people were consecrated and they washed their clothes. It can be said that there is further evidence from silence. If the people weren’t consecrated then God would have “break out against them” (Ex. 19:22). However, He didn’t. This implies that they were indeed, truly consecrated, their clothes were washed, and they had abstain from sexual activities.


[1] Clifford R. Goldstein, ed., “Glimpses of Our God,” Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press 2012)

[2] Goldstein, 46.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Nichol, Francis D.: The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary: The Holy Bible With Exegetical and Expository Comment. Washington, D.C. : Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1978 (Commentary Reference Series), S. Ex 19:2

[5] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scriptures in this article are taken from the New International Version.

Is the Secret Worth Knowing?:Why Bother with Revelation

The book of Revelation is not something that I hear much about from most of the young Christians that I know. The few that I hear talking about it are more interested in making historical connections. While it is a prophetic book, which does require those connections at some point, I’ve been wondering lately, as Jon Paulien,[1] dean of Religion at Loma Linda University, states: “[Adventists] get so absorbed in history that we fail to follow the story of revelation itself” (emphasis mine). This, he goes on, may cause us to miss things that are important in helping us understand the text itself and how it helps us understand history.[2]

In the spirit of this statement, I’ve begun walking through Revelation again. I came down this road several times before. When I first read Revelation, I was driven by an apologetic spirit; seeking out ways to defend the Adventist position. Over the years as my understanding of biblical interpretation, due to constant reading and some theological classes, deepened, I started to notice things that I didn’t see before.

This time around, I don’t want to bog you down by starting with background information, heavy explanations, or theological terminology (even though a big part of me wants to write this in more scholarly form). The reason: most people are more interested in devotional messages than the process that one goes through in order to develop the material for those devotions (smile). That being said, I begin with reflections on the first three verses which some bibles call, “Introduction and Benediction.”[3] It tells us: where Revelation come from; the beings involved in the process to get it to earth in the first century; and why we should read it.

Origin of Revelation

Where does the content of Revelation come from? The value that we put on Revelation is based on a claim that it makes concerning itself: it originated from God (Rev. 1:1). In fact, all of the versions I’ve read explicitly states, “God gave.”[4] Thus, there is no confusion about the origin of the content that is within this document. However, being the curious person that I am, I went on to ask myself about what does it mean when it says God. This question arose because I notice that a difference is made in the verse between “Jesus Christ” and “God.”

As one who believes in the trinity, I thought that If God gave the Revelation to Jesus Christ then the term God must be referring to God the Father, God the Spirit, or both. I don’t have a definitive answer at this point, but I believe that the answer must include God the Father. This is not to say that the Spirit wasn’t aware of the transfer of the communication, or what may have you. I hope I did not perplex you further concerning this already perplexing book. The point is that God is the source. This is the divine origin of the book.

I thought that it would be necessary to mention the human writer in this origin section. John, a writer with four other literary documents[5] in the Bible, is the human being that was, as the apostle Peter puts it, “moved” by God (2 Pet. 1:21 NKJV). This is an example of Peter’s words in action.

The Journey from God to Earth

John could have started the Revelation by simply stating it was given to him by God, but he didn’t. Instead, he decides to list 4 beings: Jesus, God, an angel, and himself. As stated earlier, it begins with God. Revelation unveils a God who took the initiative of sending something that wasn’t asked, but utterly necessary.

Thus, God “gave” it to Jesus, who then gave it to an angel. The Godhead gave an angel the opportunity to participate in the transmission of this communication. This adds to the grandness of the Revelation. Heaven embarked on a great mission to bring something to earth. This mission involved all the big names. The angel enters into the world of mankind and gives the prophet the secret that is to be unveiled.

Why Bother with this Book?

This may seem like a mundane question, but it is one that I’ve heard frequently. Before discussing the reasons, as stated in the first three verses, I would like to present an analysis of the contemporary climate. People are more interested in reading the stories in the Bible that they can easily understand. I reckon that the reason for this, that is to say, for those that are serious, is to find commands and principles that will tell them what to do. This is a good objective because the Bible aims at doing just that, providing guidance. The problem is that in the quest to find what to do some people develop a habit of being content with the quickest answer. Anything that challenges the mind to dig deeper receives a screwed face. It never ceases to shock me when I see college students do this.

But let’s get back to the topic. Other than the fact that it is in the Bible, which, I have noticed, is not a motivator for Christians to read something anymore, Revelation states that its’ readers, hearers, and doers will be blessed (Rev. 1:3). If this is not an incentive to invest time into this book then I don’t know what is. Everywhere you hear the pulpiters (preachers) storming about receiving God’s blessings, but nowhere is this book mentioned. If it is, I haven’t heard it. Here is an opportunity to be blessed, and all you have to do is prayerfully read and study.

There is something to note about this blessing that is being promised. The verse says that blessings will come upon “the one who reads,” and “those who it hear it and take it to heart” (NIV). An idea that may come to the mind of someone reading this is that there are two pre-requisites for this blessing. The first is that if you are a reader of Revelation then you will be blessed. The condition is that you simply read it. The second is that a blessing is reserved for those who don’t read it but heard it. The listeners, they reckon, also have to practice the counsels within.

Jacques B. Doukhan, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Exegesis at Andrews Theological Seminary, comments that this section of the three verses is a reference to the worship service in which Revelation is to be read. He bases this on the fact that the one who is reading it is stated in singular form, and the hearers are in the plural. So does this mean that we only receive the blessings if we gather somewhere and hear someone speak on Revelation? No. Without going into too much of a discussion on meaning of words, Doukhan states that the word that is being used in reference to hearing also requires the understanding of what is being heard.[6] This will require more than just sitting in church and hearing a sermon.

What about Jesus? Any discussion on Revelation must include Jesus. Not only did he participate in the transmission process of the material, but it is also a revelation about himself (1:1). Perhaps the real issue with understanding this is due to the failure of some to show the church how Jesus is revealed. Jesus’ relationship to the rest of the book is pivotal in understanding it since it is a revelation of him.

Another reason that must come in under this section is Revelation’s claim to contain “what must soon take place” (1:1, 3). I’m sure that what will happen tomorrow, or even for the rest of today for that matter, is of great interest to many. Well, God doesn’t give us all the information about what is going to happen soon, but he does give us something. The only reason why we would deny ourselves this information is if we don’t believe that it is really there. Our belief in whether or not this document contain what it says it does will affect whether we read it or not.


[1] Jon Paulien, Ph.D., is a Seventh-day Adventist New Testament scholar. He specializes in Johanine literature (especially the book of John and Revelation).

[2] Jon Paulien, Armageddon at the Door: An Insider’s Guide to the Book of Revelation (Hagerstown, MD: Autumn House Publishing, 2008), pp. 63-64.

[3] Cf. Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible.

[4] Cf. ASV; ESV; KJV; NAB; NASB; NET; NIV; NJB; NKJV; NRS; RSV; and YLT.

[5] The apostle John wrote the Gospel According to John; 1 John; 2 John; and 3 John.

[6] Jacques B. Doukhan, Secrets of Revelation: The Apocalypse Through Hebrew Eyes (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2002), pp.12-13.

Confess Your Sins to Each Other?: Dealing with James 5:16

The Wednesday section of the Sabbath school lesson[1] presents us with a verse that we are not so fond of. In fact, some may think that the Bible would do well without it. However, despite the eyebrows that the author must have surely known would be raised, the decision was made to include the terrifying words of James 5:16 which calls us to, “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other so that [we] may be healed” (NIV, emphasis mine). Frightful, is it not? Not exactly what we wanted to hear.

Not only does the author bring the verse into the relationship conversation, which is the theme for this week, but we are also given four lines to write our interpretation and how we can apply it in our lives. I imagined the eyes of my Sabbath school students rolling as they stared at those lines (smile). I certainly can’t wait for Sabbath morning to hear what will be said concerning this verse. I anticipate that much of the discussion will be aimed at a caution that is given concerning confessing to others: “there is always the risk that our friend will reveal the confidence to others.”

Is it true? It certainly is. Gossip, popular in our culture, seems to be a fundamental quality of our dysfunctional characters. If we are not the ones telling the tale, then we are the ones hearing it. Often times, this is overlooked in personal reflections because we don’t realize the seriousness of gossip. I’m sure that many sermons are preached on the topic, but for the most part we tend to brush the wrongness of it to the side. We are not concerned, unless, of course, it is about us.

The lessons points to two interpretations for the verse: confessing sins committed against someone “in order to secure forgiveness and to restore the relationship”; confessing sins in general to someone that, all evidence indicates, has a mature faith. In my personal analysis of the text, the second one was the one that quickly came to mind. In my reading, James 5:16 seems to be setting up a principal.[2] If we are being called to confess to each other, then there is a need for a change in the way we are and the way we look at each other.

Let me clear those two points up. First, if we are in the church and are not considered persons that can be called upon to pray for others—what James calls a, “righteous man,” then there is a problem. What is the problem? What are we doing in the church if we can’t be identified among the faithful? That is a problem. By saying “righteous man,” James indicates that there are people of mature faith in the church. It behooves us to be amongst that company.

As I was reflecting on this point, it occurred to me that those who are to pray are functioning as mediators. They take the confessed sins and plead to God on behalf of the confessor for pardon, forgiveness and healing. This is a mighty and noble act, reminiscent of Moses and Christ. In order for us to partake of this great service on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the faith, we need to be what we claim to be.

Second, on the part of those who confess, there must reside within them not only the ability to trust, but the ability to discern character. The need for trust is not stated in the verse, it is implied. Discernment of character comes through prayer. With analysis inspired from God we can be directed to the best person to talk to. One of the best indicators of maturity is visible consistency in devotion to God. Of course, it can all be a show. This is why it is essential to not only ask God who or when, or if you should at.

Imagine what type of community the church would be if these things were so. Well, it can be so, but it would have to take some Bible believing souls who are interested in putting the principals into practice, trusting that God will work mightily through them as they do so. The togetherness of the church would rise to greater heights. We would be closer to the scriptural ideal for the church, a family.


[1] Julian Melgosa. “Jesus Wept: The Bible and Human Emotions.” Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide (2011), p. 34.

[2] There are two ways that I suspect one may look at James 5:16. The first is that it is calling for a moment in which people gather together, confess their sins—whether it is to that individual or not, is not indicated—and pray for each other.  What may dismiss this argument is the fact that the word “healed” connects the verse to the three prior verses. The three prior verses deal with being sick and therefore verse 16 may be calling for those who are sick to be the ones to confess. The second way, which is the one I prefer, is that it is stating that we should confess to a trusted spiritual person.

The Decline of Biblical Literacy

Last Friday, I was blessed to be the speaker in the first youth devotional service at my church. I considered it a blessing because in preparing for the message, I had to spend considerable time reflecting on the tone that is to be set for the year. This helped me immensely, because it is the tone that I had to set for myself before preaching it. My reflections were based on 2 Peter 3 and the connection it made between eschatology[1] and daily living. Peter argues that the eschaton[2] is a motivator for daily living.

However, in order for the eschaton to be a motivation, one has to believe that “the day of the Lord will come” (2 Pet. 3:10 NIV).  This belief is contrary to what is stated by scoffers who, as antagonists of truth, seek to prevent the ecclesiastical masses from recalling “the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through [the] apostles” (3:3, emphasis mine), by denying that the second coming will take place.

This leads to the point that I wanted to address in this article. For years, I’ve lamented over the decline of biblical literacy amongst the members of the church, both young and old. However, I’ve felt that for the most part it has fallen on deaf ears. Quickly glancing over a few passages of scripture in the morning and/or at night, has become the norm amongst Adventists (if they read at all). Life has become too busy and thus Bible study takes a time-cut.

As argued elsewhere, I believe that the main reasons for this is: reading is not as popular as it use to be; influence by a culture that does not view the Bible as truthful; and the inability, or outright refusal, to differentiate between Bible reading and study. There are other factors to consider, but I gather that these are the main ones plaguing the members of the church.

The Decline of Reading

The first time I stated my awareness of a decline in reading, most people gave me a blank stare. I was use to getting blank stares in response to other statements that I made so I didn’t know what to make of it. Over the years, I’ve adjusted that analysis somewhat. The decline in reading affects areas where, if what is to be read is not read, a foreseeable penalty is not expected. That is to say that we need reasons that we believe is worth reading for.

For example, students, for the most part, read their textbooks because they know that the material will contribute positively to their grades and/or their understanding of concepts that will be needed for their careers. Other reading materials that fall in line with a foreseeable benefit are work and personal finance related. There are still those that read simply because they are interested in a topic, but I believe that this is on the decline, more so in the church than anywhere else.

The media  and independent research groups have been reporting on this issue for quite some time now. A 2004 report released by the National Endowment for the Arts says that “the number of non-reading adults increased by more than 17 million between 1992 and 2002.”[3] Eric Wiener, in an article entitled “Why Women Read More Than Man,” highlights a poll released by the Associated Press and Ipsos[4] stating that in 2006 “the typical American read only four books, and one in four adults read no books at all.”[5] Writing in the New York Times, Karen W. Arenson’s article, “SAT Reading and Math Scores Show Decline,” points to 2006 as being the year that “showed the largest decline in 31 years” of SAT taking.[6]

Seems like there is truth to my analysis. However, a counter argument can be made that though book reading is in decline, reading on the internet is not.[7] I agree with this assessment. But I don’t believe for a moment that it is a sustained type of reading. That is to say that I believe that most of the reading that is done on the net is in the form of going rapidly through vast amount of information in short sessions.

The big question would be: “how much of this information do we really retain?” If we can’t speak intelligently about what we read, then what is the point? There are other factors to consider when it comes to reading on the internet—something that I do often, and I’m in no way demonizing it. Sitting in front of a screen for a long period of time is not healthy for the eyes. Not to mention, unless we are disciplined, it will prompt us to look for sites that are more entertainment focus. Thus, we become the harbingers of Hollywood gossip.

The Culture’s Disregard for Biblical Truth

When the movie Legion came out, I was prompted to write an article concerning how it is a representation of the post-modern culture’s use of the Bible. It is true that “it is just a movie,” but the arts are influenced by the worldviews of their times.  There is an interest in religion, especially Christianity, but not in the way that it is stated in the Bible. People are looking for God outside of the religious systems. In their rejections of these systems, they reject the Bible. Rejecting the Bible doesn’t only mean that they don’t accept it as authoritative, but that they distort its’ message to fit their perspectives.

Richard Rice, professor of theology and religion at Loma Linda University, argues that the significant interest in religion “does not translate into enthusiasm for conventional Christianity. Instead, many traditional communities are in decline.”[8] Rice claims that what many are looking for is a type of religion without-borders that allows them to maintain their individuality. In a study, the Barna Research Group found that “faith in the American Context is now individualized and customized.” Americans are interested in some kind of spirituality that allows them to shape it. In the study, 71% “say they will develop their own slate of religious beliefs rather than accept a package of beliefs promoted by a church or denomination.”[9]

Hybrid faiths in which there is no right and wrong are on the rise. Therefore, it is not shocking when we turn on the T.V. and catch glimpses of elements of Christianity everywhere, but nothing close to what is written in the Bible. The world will always be the world until Christ comes back, but I believe that some Christians have aided them in their distortion of truth by presenting them with a Christianity (which is not one at all) that is very distant from the Bible.

As a result, some Christians are now reveling in the culture’s presentation of Christianity. They see it as more appealing than the one that they are familiar with. They reckon that the interpretations been heard outside are better than the ones within. The philosophers of modern culture have become their biblical interpreters, their theologians. But the reality is that it is not the Bible that is being presented. Thus, the cultural influence draws them away from reading the actual text.

Bible Reading Vs. Bible Study

This idea came to mind not too long ago. If I was asked a few years ago if there is a difference between reading and studying, I would have answered yes. However, I never thought of the difference in association with the Bible. Reading a text doesn’t necessarily mean that you are studying the text. There is no need to make a big deal concerning this in terms of terminology. However, I’m using it to say that many people gloss over the words of the Bible (reading), but never take a pen and paper and try to mark down things that they note in the passage (studying).

Bible reading, or study, has become a despised past time that many hurry through. The only reason that some bother with it at all is because of the guilt that they feel when they don’t perform a sort of spiritual exercise—the same thing is done with prayer. Perhaps seeking for a works’ righteousness, many read the Bible with the mindset that if they do it, then they fulfilled a spiritual duty and can go on to more “pressing” matters.

There is a need to remind the church that biblical analysis is not only for aspiring theologians. It is impossible to cement anything in our minds without spending time prayerfully wrestling with the narratives. It is not only the duty of the preacher to study the Bible, but of every Christian. It is in this spirit that I quote the words of Peter once more: “I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord through your apostles” (2 Pet. 3:2). Those who desire not to join the ranks of the scoffers will do well to heed.


[1]Eschatology, also known as the doctrine of consummation, “addresses the end of the present era of history, initiated by the reappearance of God in the person of Jesus the Messiah and the ultimate future of humanity.” Guy, Fritz. Thinking Theologically: Adventist Christianity and the Interpretation of Faith. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1999. P. 206.

[2] From Gk. meaning, “end.”

[3] Shetty, Raksha. “Huge Decline in Book Reading.” CBS News, July 8, 2004. http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/07/08/national/main628194.shtml

[4] Ipsos is a market-research firm.

[6] Arenson, Karen W. “SAT Reading and Math Scores Show Decline.” New York Times, August 30, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/30/education/30sat.html. This was a new form of SAT.

[8] Rice, Richard. “The Challenge of Spiritual Individualism (And How to Meet It).” Andrews University Seminary Studies (2005), Vol. 43, No. 1, 113-131. http://www.auss.info/auss_publication_file.php?pub_id=1097&journal=1&type=pdf