Christians are a people of the book. Along with Jews and Muslims, we are identified amidst the world’s religions as people particularly guided by our holy scriptures. Lutherans have a tradition of reverence for and familiarity with the Bible. It was Martin Luther who translated the Bible into the people’s language (and got away with it. Others had tried before, and were executed!) Luther insisted that the Bible was to be read, not just by scholars and ministers, but by ordinary Christians. The Protestant Reformation produced an expectation that Christians would be biblically literate. The ideal was that families would read scripture together daily.
Our church’s Confession of Faith includes:
“The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written word of God. Inspired by God’s spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God’s Revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them, God’s Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.” (2.02)
In other words, Jesus is at the center of our lives and faith as Christians, and the Bible is one of the ways we learn more about Jesus, our faith and life.
A pastor recently wrote to me asking how we might revive the common practice of daily Bible reading and prayer in our congregations. It is a good question. When a child is baptized, the parents and sponsors are charged, among other things, to “place in their hands the Holy Scriptures.” Implied in the charge is to open the Bible, read it, reflect on it, study it, teach it. Regularly. It is not a once-and-for-all thing. Baptism is. But reading scripture is not. It is an ongoing process.
The ELCA’s Book of Faith Initiative, started in 2007 to encourage just that, has a slogan: “Open Scripture—Join the Conversation.” It is a conversation—with the book, with fellow readers and seekers, with teachers, with learners, with God, with self.
In the Service of Ordination, the candidate is asked by the Bishop: “Will you be diligent in your study of Holy Scripture and in your use of the means of grace?” It is understood that the pastor will lead by example. Scripture reading is not just for pastors, and it is not just for sermon preparation. Scripture reading is an end in itself, a faith practice. And there are many ways to read Scripture respectfully.
Some people like to follow the lectionary, and daily readings set up in our worship resources. Some like to follow a devotional book that may or may not be lectionary-based. Some like a chronological approach—reading the Bible from beginning to end. Some like to focus on a particular book of the Bible for a particular season. There is no right or wrong way to read the Bible. Read it by yourself, but also read it with others. That way you will not get off track with an interpretation that really isn’t there in scripture.
The Book of Faith Initiative recommends reading Scripture in a four-fold way: devotionally, historically, literarily, and theologically (Lutheran). Devotional reading is bringing your questions and experiences to the text. Historical reading looks at the original context of the text—when it was written, who was the audience, why was it written. Literary reading takes a hard look at the story, the form, the literary details. And reading with a Lutheran theological slant brings Lutheran principles and questions to the text.
In the Introduction to the Bible in the Lutheran Study Bible (Augsburg), Hans Dahl writes:
“The Bible can also be described as a book of faith. That means three things. First, the Bible comes from faith. The Bible is a product of communities of faith who gathered the writings of authors inspired by God and regarded them as having authority as sacred Scriptures. Secondly, we are invited to read and study and listen to the Bible in faith. That means that we approach the Bible as a book of faith. Through it we are connected with all the people of faith—today and in the past. Finally, the Bible is written primarily for faith. The great story of God’s love and the promises of new life found in the Bible ae meant to be heard and shared. That means the Bible creates individuals and communities of faith for a purpose—so that the good news of God’s love will be shared in both words and actions.”
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Jessica Crist, Bishop