The Bible is not just a book, nor a collection of books, it is an entire world. The more I have studied and tried to share it over the years, the more colorful, engaging, harmonious and fascinating I have found that world to be. Or think of The Bible as a grand old house, in which one finds new details and new connections between the rooms over the years. Every so often some new feature of this world, or this house, opens up a new vista or perspective that is both new and ancient, as we become open, through life and God’s Spirit, to new questions and perspectives. For example, in his book, The Old Testament Roots of Nonviolence,(Wipf and Stock, 2010) Philip Friesen has brought to light the deep structures of the Bible that connect Genesis with the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel, and with “The War of the Lamb” in John’s Revelation. Where many people see superficial contradictions and differences, a life with the Bible reveals deep and surprising connections. It chronicles a long, historic and unfolding discussion among God’s people, and between us and God. In effect, the Word of God comes to us through the people of God, just as the people of God are called into being by the Word of God. But through them and their records, their questions, their laments and celebrations and affirmations and confessions of faith and failure, God speaks and ushers us into his presence.
Our church’s mission statement commits Emmanuel Mennonite Church to “the Bible as the source of God’s revelation to humanity.” That we hold in common with most other Christian churches and denominations. It also commits us to “Anabaptist beliefs as articulated in the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, the statement Vision: Healing and Hope, and Anabaptist/Mennonite imperatives of discipleship, service, community and peacemaking.” Having Anabaptist/Mennonite beliefs and perspective on the Bible means that we do not read the Bible as though it were a flat book, like the Hennepin County Health Code, such that we can switch the pages at random and it would all mean the same thing. According to the Bible itself, there is a historical progression of God’s revelation that affects our reading and interpretation of it. For example, “the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law” (Galatians 3: 24-25). We see Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God, as the pinnacle of God’s self-revelation, and the key to interpreting the whole of the Bible. He is “the righteous one,” and “the royal son” who prays in the Psalms, the “Son of Man” and “Desire of the Nations” foreseen by the prophets, and “the goal of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).
History tells us that the renewal of church life, mission and worship happen in conjunction with a renewal of Bible reading. The Anabaptist Movement and the Protestant Reformation were aided, in part, by the invention of the printing press and the spread of literacy in Europe, which in turn enabled many people to read the Bible for themselves, and in groups. An Anabaptist/Mennonite approach to Bible reading also stresses the importance of reading it together, so that a wider range of Holy Spirit gifts and human experience can be used for mutual edification.
To that end, the deacons and I at Emmanuel Mennonite Church are encouraging the use of a daily Bible reading program that will enable all participants to read through the entire Bible in two years. That pace would require reading two chapters a day, for six days a week. We will intersperse chapters or sections from the Psalms and Proverbs into each week’s schedule. Expect there to be occasional adult Christian education classes on Sundays on books or chapters we will have been reading. One option for families with small children will be a lighter schedule of readings so that all ages can read together and discuss. There will also be a section on our church’s website where we can post reflections and questions about our readings, with links to other helpful resources.
If you already have a program of Bible reading that works for you, with which you prefer to stay, we affirm and congratulate that. Check out the suggested program, but feel free to stay with what you have. If you don’t have such a devotional program already, then consider joining this one. Consider having a partner for reading and discussing the passages too. Or form a reading and discussion group that would meet every so often over coffee, lunch or breakfast.
Watch the bulletins, and this website, beginning June 13, for more information and updates on our two year Bible reading program. We will distribute Bible reading schedules at church, on which you can record the progress of your reading. But the weekly Bible references will also be posted on the website and in each week’s bulletin.
Pastor Mathew Swora