By now, it can be assumed that the seven goals of "Tell the World" are part of the warp and woof of everyday thinking of Seventh-day Adventist leadership worldwide. The very first of the seven initiatives outlined in this major quinquennial imperative focuses on spiritual growth: "Increase the percentage of church members spending time in daily Bible study and prayer from 50 percent to at least 65 percent."
On the face of it, any effort to urge Christians to read their Bibles would seem a bit absurd, like reminding football fans to tune in and watch the Super Bowl on television. Of course that's what a football fan would do; in fact, one of the evidences that someone is a football fan is that he or she would be glued to the tube come Super Bowl time. Similarly, it would seem that an evidence of one's Christianity is that he or she would be glued to the Scriptures.
Here's where we encounter the concept of so-called "fair-weather fans" in the world of sports and what we call "nominal Christians" in the world of religion. There, it's been said: As a people who consider ourselves Christian, if we don't regularly read God's Word savor the poetry, wrestle with the paradoxes, interpret the histories, study the prophecies then we're nothing more than nominal Christians.
Is it possible that, even to some who call themselves Christians, the Bible is little more than a quaint book with little everyday importance? What is the Bible's relevance, if any, to everyday life in the year 2007? After all, the most recently written books of the canon were authored more than 1,900 years ago, and the earliest millennia before that. What possible benefit could we derive from the works of a bunch of misfit writers who couldn't even get along with people in their own time? Are we truly supposed to learn something about relationships from people who were often hated so much that they were put to death? Are we to learn how to win friends and influence people? In most cases, the stories of the heroes of the Bible were tales of how to lose friends and alienate people.
And just think about it: few of us have ever personally known anyone swallowed by a whale, fed by ravens, addressed by a snake some of the most far-fetched stories you could ever imagine. What do these things have to do with us as we're about to enter the so-called Age of Aquarius? As we face a bewildering barrage of issues created especially for aimed directly at us courtesy of Madison Avenue, Hollywood, and Silicon Valley, our attention quite naturally drifts away from quaint tales of talking bushes, donkeys, and whirlwinds. We're far too sophisticated to take such things literally or seriously.
Yet where do we go for answers to the questions that occur to any half-awake viewer of thesixo'clock news? Even skeptic author Mike Bryan says, "Contemporary culture isn't just un-Christian, it's antiChristian, pagan, devoted 24 hours a day to each and every vanity condemned by Jesus."' No apparent answers there! If people don't think they can find answers in Scripture to life's toughest, grittiest questions, where are they supposed to look? What else is there to recommend? The media? The university? The street?
"One of the most valuable things we can do as we talk with seekers is help them see that there is more than one way to make sense of the world and that the Bible does a better job of putting together some of the hard pieces than any other explanation of existence. We need to offer fresh perspective through the Scriptures, reminding people what is real and what is important."2
Jesus Himself referred to Scripture for the answers to the issues that confronted Him. He often quoted from writings authored centuries before His life on this earth. Jesus explained John the Baptist's ministry by quoting Malachi, a writer four centuries before His time (Matt. 11:10). When the Pharisees criticized Him for consorting with tax collectors and sinners, He quoted Hosea, an author from seven centuries before (9:13). In meeting temptation in the wilderness, He quoted Moses, though the book of Deuteronomy was written 16 centuries before (4:4, 7, 10). Clearly Jesus did not consider the Scriptures to be irrelevant to His time, even though many of them were written long before.
Sometimes it's a bit tempting to think that Jesus walked the same literal streets as Abraham, Moses, and Daniel. Not so. It would not be accurate to assume that all biblical settings represent a kind of monolithic cultural milieu. Though Jesus was born into a world vastly different from those of Abraham, Moses, and Daniel, He recognized that the timeless principles of their times applied in His day as they just as certainly do today!
Who we vote for in the next election should be based on our reading of Scripture. Our decision to participate in a hot issue of public debate, a moving trend in behavior, or a popular breakthrough in thinking should stem from our study of biblical principles.
And this is something that the "Tell the World" imperative directs us, as world church leaders, to model for our membership. Otherwise, how can we honestly proclaim, as the psalmist, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path" (Ps. 119:105)?
1. Chapter and Verse (New York: Penguin Books, 1992), p. 105.
2. David W. Henderson, Culture Shift: Communicating Cod's Truth to Our Changing World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), pp. 83, 84.
Gary B. Swanson is associate director of the General Conference Sabbath School and Personal Ministries Department.