Happy Bible Sunday!

In the days of one united Prayer Book and lectionary, Anglican circles called this Sunday, the Second of Advent, “Bible Sunday” because of the Collect:

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The epistle reading is similarly Bible-focussed: Romans 15:4-13.

We would do well to pray this collect over and over again, for, like many of Cranmer’s little masterpieces,* it is a sermon unto itself.  We learn first (regarding the Bible; no doubt an entire homily could be preached on “Blessed Lord”):

  • God caused all holy Scriptures to be written

This alone is to give us pause when we recall some of the things we hear, such as that the NT writers were choosy in their selection and not everything in them is historically true.  Like the Virgin Birth.  Or the Resurrection.  Or the very idea of Jesus being God-in-flesh.  If God caused all holy Scriptures to be written, then we should take these passages and doctrines very seriously before moving on to:

  • written for our learning

The purpose of this writing of Scripture was our learning.  The Bible is there to teach us.  We are to learn from it.  How?  Cranmer shows us next:

  • hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them

The Word of God is to be proclaimed and read aloud.  I believe this applies even to today when most of the population is literate.  The spoken word, as an action, has force and power different from the printed word.**  We are also to read it ourselves, though.  Sunday morning is not enough; our involvement with the Scriptures is to be personal.  As we read the words of life, we are also called to mark them, learn them, and inwardly digest them.

That last phrase, “inwardly digest them,” is among my favourite Prayer-Book phrases.  As we study the Scriptures, we aren’t just supposed to observe them critically as we would the Aeneid or the Tome of Leo.  We are to digest them.  They are to enter into our very being and become part of us.  This is a very dynamic, very physical image.  And what is the result of our intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures?

  • by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life

The Scriptures give us patience — endurance through suffering — and comfort — strength.  Through this endurance and this strength, we come to a place where we are able to embrace — again, a very personal verb — and hold fast — imagine someone holding onto a rope so as not to fall into a chasm — the blessed hope of everlasting life.

The Christian hope is not simply the hope of a better world, the hope of temporal joy, the hope of moral improvement but the hope of eternity for those who put their trust in Jesus, in God, Whose character is displayed to us on the pages of the Bible.

And whence does our hope come?

  • our Saviour Jesus Christ

The Christocentrism of Reformational thought (I acknowledge that there was/is much Christocentrism in Catholic thought; I am not speaking of Catholics, though) comes forth.  Our hope of eternity comes from Jesus.  Cling to him whom we have found in the pages of the Scriptures and we cling to our hope, we cling to eternity and escape from death.  This is a good thing.

So we should all read our Bibles, and read them carefully, so that we can come to know better the God who saves us through Jesus Christ and be transformed and cling to the hope of everlasting life.

*I hereby acknowledge Archbp. Thomas Cranmer’s debt to the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries.  Part of his genius was in selection and translation, part in adaptation of the tradition, part in original composition.

**My own adaptation of Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy.

A. W. Tozer on the results of improper belief

In The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer writes:

A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well.  It is to worship what the foundation is to the temple; where it is inadequate or out of plumb the whole structure must sooner or later collapse.  I believe there is scarcely an error in doctrine or a failure in applying Christian ethics that cannot be traced finally to imperfect and ignoble thoughts about God. (2)

Throughout my reading of this book I was trying to think of how a misunderstanding of God’s attributes could lead to the results Tozer relates, for I want to desperately to believe him.

My answer was found in his chapter on the love of God.  One of the points made throughout The Knowledge of the Holy is the interrelatedness of the divine attributes.  A loss to one means a loss to the others.  And thus come the errors through a misunderstanding of God’s love.  Yes, God is love.  However, we must not overemphasise this teaching to the detriment of the other divine attributes.  We must also avoid imagining that love is God, or imagining that God’s love is the same as ours.

There are Christians abroad in my tradition (Anglican) who hold that sexual sins — same-sex sexual acts, pre-marital relations — are not actually sins, and some are even blessable.  Some such people also act as though sin in general is no big deal, or that sin only refers to the big, criminal things, such as murder or only refers to the great social injustices of our age.  This stems, I believe from a gross misunderstanding of God’s love, and, in fact, of love in general.

If God loves people, why would he condemn them for being how they are made?  If God loves people, why would he condemn them for doing things that are perfectly natural?  If God loves people, why would he wish to put any restrictions on them at all?  Does not love mean to seek the pleasure and happiness of the beloved?  If you love someone, do you really want to restrict that person’s behaviour?  A loving God cannot, therefore, condemn certain behaviours that have recently become social acceptable, for to do so would be to marginalise those who behave in such a way.

Yet if we back up and look at every vision of God in the Scriptures, from Noah to St. John the Divine, do we not get a sense of a truly majestic Being, full of grandeur, greatness, and completely different from us?  A Being whom Ezekiel finds himself at a loss of words to describe? (See Tozer, p. 7)  What, besides pure, unbounded love, are God’s attributes?  A. W. Tozer gives us:

  • Incomprehensibility
  • Holy Trinity
  • Self-existence
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Eternity
  • Infinitude
  • Immutability
  • Omniscience
  • Wisdom
  • Omnipotence
  • Transcendence
  • Omnipresence
  • Faithfulness
  • Goodness
  • Justice
  • Mercy
  • Grace
  • Holiness
  • Sovereignty

Such a one as that would surely establish boundaries for our daily living.  God condemns our wrong behaviour, be it socially acceptable or not, because He wants to see us living in the fullest, most whole way possible.  If we think that His love is like what I described above and do not take into account the other divine attributes, we will miss this point and start condoning sin.  And that leads us down a treacherous road to licentiousness and heresy.

Woe is us!