The ME Congregation
I was asked recently to help write a bible study for my congregation. One mandate: focus exclusively on personal application. The program just adopted for our women –no surprise–reflects precisely that mindset. After all, ”in the volume of the book it is written of me”. (Hebrews 10:7)
Wait a minute. Hopefully all of you out there in Readerland are now incensed. That verse doesn’t say that the Bible is all about us, does it? It says the whole Bible is about Jesus.
That’s the problem. You can’t just pluck any verse out of the context of the passage and make it about you.
The study our women’s program is now using ( a study that seems to be spreading as fast the kudzu across my home state of Mississippi) is all about personal application. Surely that can’t be a bad thing?
Hmmm. Jesus himself had something to say about that. In one of his numerous verbal beat-downs of the Pharisees, he acknowledged that they “studied the scriptures diligently” (John 5:39) but went on to tell them that they still completely missed the point: the scriptures were about Him!
Isaiah had predicted it: comparing the Israelites to spiritual infants, he condemned their approach to the scriptures: “Do this, do that, a rule for this, a rule for that; a little here, a little there.” Isaiah 28:9-13 He went on to explain that that approach would ultimately cause them to not recognize the resting place that God would provide ( in Jesus, who is our rest, Hebrews 4). And that ultimately led to their destruction.
In fact, Jesus told his disciples on the Emmaus road that everything from “in the beginning” to the last word of Malachi was about Him. Luke 24:25 And, Luke continued, that kind of approach to bible study “opened up the Scriptures” to those Emmaus road pupils.
The problem was not that they Pharisees and their followers weren’t in the Scriptures. They were. The problem was that they were in the scriptures for the wrong reason.
They went there to legitimize and nurture a self-satisfied pride. And The church is doing the same thing. That’s why 75% of our kids end up leaving the church, and thereafter ignoring or even disdaining their Bibles. We teach it as if it is a book of rules or (at best) a self help book, instead of what it really is: the endlessly fascinating autobiography of a mysterious, omnipotent, eternal God who has chosen to reveal himself to us. And that’s how we end up with books like The Shack where God is an older woman that makes great muffins, Jesus is a handyman, and the Holy Spirit is a sprite-like guru that spouts self-help platitudes at opportune moments. And that’s why those kinds of books sell bzillions of copies. It’s all about us.
(You almost can’t help but contrast The Shacks version of the trinity with the glimpse of heaven’s throne room in Isaiah 6 where just the train of God’s robe fills the temple and the seraphim , for eternity, can say nothing more than “Holy!” )
The real problem here is as old as Adam and Eve. Humankind craves their own glory. They want to cling to the illusion that they themselves are righteous.
Adam and Eve covered their nakedness with their own efforts; God gave them skin of an animal instead. Object lesson: only shed blood can removes the stain of sin.
Abel offered the sacrifice God proscribed (and was commended), Cain offered the work of his own hands (and was condemned).
The Jews took the commands of God and turned them into an elaborate system of DIY righteousness. Remember everything Jesus had to say about the Pharisees?
This curriculum my church is now using for the women ambitiously spends two years going chronologically through “bible stories”. It is all about the coveted focus on practical application. I must admit that as an actual Bible Study, it is infinitely better than the narcissistic self-help books ( with Jesus worked in there somewhere, of course) that have been the bread and butter of the program over the last ten years.
But it has issues– ones very reflective of the current self-absorption of the future bride of the Savior.
The curriculum begins, appropriately, with the “story” of the creation and the fall. So far, so good.
Personal Application for this story: get your kids on a schedule. (I couldn’t make this stuff up.) “Core truth” for the story of Leah and Rachel ? Ugly women have problems in their relationships with pretty women. (No comment needed.)
I’ll stop there. These kinds of “practical applications” are obviously ridiculous to any serious student of the scripture, but in the long run they are fairly small issues.
A bigger issue was that the parts of the Bible without readily obvious application were just left completely out. No prophetic passages, little history. The study just leapfrogged to the next carefully selected “story”.
The really disturbing thing, however, was that I had finished the whole Old Testament part of the without seeing a single question regarding what the student learned from the “story” about Jesus. Jesus told the disciples on the Emmaus road that the whole Old Testament was about him. But in this study, It was all, front to finish, about “me”.
This is not a bride who is resting secure in her groom’s love and lavishing her attention on him. (BTW–the use of marriage is pretty good sideways proof of eternal security. What bride is supposed to be continually worrying about whether or not her husband still loves her?) This is a self-absorbed bride who is not setting her heart on things above.
Don’t think less of yourself. Think of yourself less. Isn’t that the idea?
It’s really NOT about you.