Re-entering the Dark Ages by our own volition: On the widespread access to and neglect of the word of God

Just a few short years ago the cliche was that every house in America seemed to have a Bible on the coffee table in their family room, but it was collecting dust for want of being used. Yet, as technology advances and the culture moves from a sort of respect-from-a-distance of Christianity to outright hostility for the faith, the Bible has been replaced by a remote control for each device contributing to our entertainment. Meanwhile, denominational leaders, pastors like me, and church members look out at empty pews, study membership rolls with myriad “inactives,” and wonder how the tide can be turned. We would all do better to realize how we got to this point.

Hint: One has something to do with the other.

Perhaps in previous generations this wasn’t the case, but today it can hardly be denied that a massive majority of people in America and the world at large do not have the worldview espoused by biblical Christianity. This is the necessarily result in a person who does not esteem God and His word rightly, which is where most people are. And that is ironic, because…

THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A TIME WHEN THE WORD OF GOD WAS MORE ACCESSIBLE TO MORE PEOPLE THAN IT IS RIGHT NOW.

Now I have several versions of the Bible in print in my possession. I’m a pastor so that is hardly a surprise. But even if I had no copies of the Bible in print I would be able to do my job just fine. Open your web browser and go to Bible Gateway and you’ll be able to access numerous translations for free. There’s even a sight for the Greek Bible, which I’ve used more than once.

There are Bible programs like Accordance and BibleWorks which I’ve used, and others like Logos that provide the user with too many tools for Bible study to list right here.

As technology has gotten smaller and mobile, access to the Scriptures has become easy. I’ve got the Bible Gateway app on both my iPhone and iPad, and before that I used YouVersion. Some of those study programs for the computer also come in mobile versions.

Bottom line: It’s just never been easier to get your eyes on the word of God, to go back and say nothing of the wide availability of print versions of the Bible, many of which you can get for free.

In more formats than ever, in more languages than ever, people can access the wonderful words of life, which is great news, but also sad, because…

THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A TIME WHEN THE WORD OF GOD WAS MORE FORSAKEN BY MORE PEOPLE WHO HAD ACCESS TO IT THAN IT IS RIGHT NOW.

When I was a kid I remember loving carrying my own Bible to church and even highlighting and underlining passages. Now I realize just how much grace God was showing me. Almost everyone had their own Bible, and if you didn’t there were Bibles readily available in the pews for you to use.

What a cultural shift we have seen. As a pastor I’m continually amazed by how many people don’t show up with a Bible and never bother picking one up when I tell them to turn to such and such a passage. Now sure, some use their iPads or iPhones as their Bibles. I’m absolutely fine with that. But a great many don’t even bother.

Maybe the churches themselves, in how they “present” the worship service, are partly to blame. More than one has taken the Bibles out of the pews and put it up on a PowerPoint type projection. I understand the thought behind projecting it, but I think it’s had an overall negative effect on the church. People don’t pick up the Bible and actually turn the pages. People don’t carry Bibles in and thus, when they might be struck by another verse somewhere else, they lack the ability to read it. Overall, there has just been an element of personal and corporate worship that has faded, or is greatly fading, away. And what’s happening in the church meetings themselves is just a microcosm of the bigger picture, where people just aren’t reading and studying the Bible.

Of course, there is nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9). We aren’t the first batch of “God’s people” to neglect His word. By the time Josiah became king when he was a mere eight years old, Judah had endured 77 years or so of evil rule from Manasseh and Amon. And really, who knows how long before that they’d really been forsaking the Scriptures (to say nothing of the northern kingdom)?

This is how bad it got. When Josiah sent Shaphan on an errand to tell Hilkiah the high priest to count the money brought into the temple, Hilkiah then came to Shaphan and said, “I have found the book of the law in the house of YHWH” (2 Kgs 22:8). It surely is a great thing that the Scriptures, presumably the Pentateuch and perhaps more, was found. However, the question the reader should be asking is, “Why was it lost in the first place?!?”

Israel was entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom 3:2) and in this instance it appears they had not merely abandoned the teaching, but the book and the words themselves for a period of several years, perhaps several decades. Now thanks be to God that Josiah rejoiced at the finding of the Scriptures and lead the way in repenting from this sin (2 Kgs 23:1-27), so much so that it would be said “Before him there was no king like him who turned to YHWH with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him” (2 Kgs 23:25), but Israel proved to be a disobedient cautionary tale. Yet, if history is any guide, people have long failed to learn from their bad example (1 Cor 10:6).

From around the middle of the first millennium after Christ and for the next thousand or so years, what became the Roman Catholic Church, for all intents and purposes, took the Scriptures away from the people so that they were devoid of the Spirit-breathed revelation of God about Himself and His redemptive plan in Christ.

As a result, while there was always a remnant, the gospel was lost to the vast majority of the people who looked to the “Church” for the truth. A false gospel of faith plus works prevailed, with a sprinkling in of indulgences, increasing devotion to Mary, papal controversies and schisms, and a heavy dash of superstition.

Thanks be to God for the Protestant Reformation, which simmered under the surface for a couple hundred years but really got going in 1517 and onward behind courageous men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Knox, and others. Sola Scriptura became the first of the five solas of the Reformation. The Bible was, if not recovered, rediscovered and once again treasured, once again distributed to the people.

Nevertheless, today, almost 500 years after Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, our society, led by many who profess to know and love God, have re-entered the Dark Ages by their own volition. Never has there been a time when the Bible was so available, but “God’s people” were so biblically illiterate.

So-called pastors, shepherds of the flocks of God, do their people no favors with false gospels, prosperity theology, and watered down, entertainment and purpose-driven preaching, but every individual Christian is ultimately responsible before God. It’s His word and many of those who claim to be His people are forsaking it to their own peril, which leads us to one more point…

THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A TIME WHEN IT WAS MORE IMPORTANT FOR THE PEOPLE OF GOD TO BE SATURATED WITH THE WORD OF GOD THAN IT IS RIGHT NOW.

  • “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.” – Matt 24:42
  • “Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.” – Luke 12:37
  • “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” – 1 Cor 16:13
  • “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,” – Eph 6:18
  • “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” – 1 Pet 5:8

This is but a sampling of the verses just in the New Testament in which believers are instructed to be on the alert, or be aware, or be watchful. Peter gives us one reason why in that last verse. The devil is seeking to devour us. But wait, there’s more…

  • “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” – 2 Pet 2:1
  • “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” – 1 Tim 4:1-2
  • “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.” – 2 Tim 3:1-5

Guess what? We live in these times. When T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer are seen by a large number of people as qualified preachers and teachers of God’s word, we’re living in a spiritual desert full of “springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved” (2 Pet 2:17). And that’s just the prosperity preachers. Personally, the Steven Furticks, Perry Nobles, and James McDonalds are much more troublesome, to say nothing of the litany of story-telling, morality-espousing, Bible-lite preachers filling so many old-school and new-school pulpits each Sunday. Yes, we are living in these times.

So what do we do about it? We “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3).

How? “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).

Word of truth? What’s that? “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).

So then what we do? “Holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Tit 1:9).

My what means? “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season [that is, whether the preacher feels like it or the listener likes that word or not]; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. . . . be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Tim 4:2, 5).

So, as I believe it’s transparent, one cannot be a faithful Christian and forsake the word of God. Yet, it happens, it’s happening, and all signs point to it continuing to happen.

Let it not be said of you. This is God’s revelation of Himself, and if you are trusting in Him for everything [such as your salvation], then how can you not treasure His word? Do not live in your own version of the Dark Ages. God sent Jesus into the world that Light might shine out of the darkness. So treasure the word, love the word, read the word, study the word, memorizing the word. Pursue and live the truth to the glory of God.

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