Traditionally the second Sunday of Advent has been designated as Bible Sunday, an opportunity for Christians to reflect on the great theme of how the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Through the Bible, the written Word of God, we come to know Jesus Christ, the Living Word.
This week I was able to visit the Bible Society of Northern Ireland’s offices in Belfast and hear about the new and fresh ways in which they seek to fulfill their vision, namely, that all the people of the world would have access to the Bible in their heart language, in a medium they can understand, and at a price they can afford, so that they would be able to engage with the Word of God. The BSNI have carried on their ministry of publishing, promoting and distributing the Bible for over 200 years, and continues today through its enthusiastic team led by John Doherty.
What struck me was the way in which BSNI have been making the Bible available to different language groups here in Northern Ireland, a symbol of how diverse our local community has become in recent years. I was able to pick up a few copies of a paralleled Polish-English New Testament which will be well-used by folks in my own congregation as they befriend our Polish neighbours through basketball and teaching English. For some of these people, the Word is fresh and new to them, as they have never had personal access to it before.
Interestingly, BSNI are planning a new initiative to refresh attitudes to the Bible among churches and people here in Northern Ireland. It seems that many of us do not appreciate the great blessing of having access to the Bible in a language that we can understand. Some ministers and pastors have noted that even when pew Bibles are provided, people do not use them to follow the Bible reading or the sermon. Perhaps they think it is unnecessary or uninspiring, and familiarity with the scriptures may have bred some contempt.
As Presbyterians, we are committed to the authority of the Word of God in all matters of faith and practice. The architecture of most of our buildings, with the pulpit central, and the Bible open on it, is a symbol of how reformed worship is fundamentally a gathering of God’s people to hear the Word of God and to respond to that Word. In private worship, as well as public worship, the Bible is the means by which we hear the voice of God, and by which we are taught, reproved, corrected and trained for Christian service (II Timothy 3:16,17).
The opening chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith establishes the foundation on which all matters of religion must rest.
“The supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the scripture.”
If this basis is forgotten, then we will soon lose our way in a maze of our own imperfect and unreliable wisdom. In his grace, God has not only given us Jesus, the Word Incarnate, but the Bible, his Word. The Bible, since it is God speaking to us, must ever be fresh and alive as it guides our thinking, our beliefs and the way we live each day. With the Word of God in our hands and the Spirit of God in our hearts we are well-equipped.