Author: Jim Thompson, D.Min., Contributing Author for Foundations by ICM
A Theological and Biblical Basis for Making Scripture Engagement the Priority for Healthy Global Church Development
In a prior article, I addressed the problem of the Worldwide Bible Gap, with a focus on the Global South. I pointed out that in the Global South (Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East) we have a major distribution problem with getting God’s Word to those who hunger for it. There are at least 500 million Christians who want a personal Bible for their own spiritual growth, who do not have one. The logistic and economic challenges of the distribution of Scripture keep these believers without a Bible or New Testament for their spiritual nourishment.
In addition to these, there are millions of people in the Global South who are not followers of Christ yet but express a desire to read the Bible if they could ever get their hands upon one. These seekers, also cannot obtain a copy of Scripture because they are either not being made available in the villages and towns they live in, or they cannot afford to pay the costs being charged for a Bible. We, the Church of Jesus Christ must step up to meet these needs and disciple people to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Why is this important? The answer to this question is what I hope to answer in this article. A 1000-word article is not long enough to give all the reasons. However, I will attempt to at least start a conversation on the subject.
I am beginning this article with two presuppositions. First, that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of God. Secondly, the term Scripture which was a word used by both Jesus and the Apostles who wrote the New Testament letters refers to the written Word of God. Specifically, it is used for the Old Testament writings.
The Nature of the Word of God
Why is Scripture, or the Bible, so important to the Church? Why is the Bible so important to disciple-making, and healthy Church development? What was Jesus’ view of Scripture? These questions, and many more need to be answered in order to understand the importance of Scripture engagement. Regular Scripture engagement is the most important tool available for disciple-making and healthy Church development.
God is often referred to in the Bible as “the Living God”. He always has existed, and He always will exist. He has no beginning and no ending. He is also a “speaking God”. He eternally communicates. Thankfully, for human beings, God desires to communicate with us. This is a part of His desire to have a personal relationship with His children. God does not speak, just to speak. God always has a purpose in His communication. It is to always accomplish His purposes (Isaiah 55:9-11). God rules the universe by the Word of His power. God exercises His authority and power over His creation by His Word.
God not only speaks in the Old Testament; He speaks in the New Testament Scriptures as well (John 1:1-14). The attribute of God speaking is so closely connected to God Himself, that they are one and the same in this passage of Scripture. Jesus is called the Word, and Jesus is called God. There is even an intended connection between Genesis 1:1, and John 1:1. Hebrews 1:1-3 continues this theme, showing it is God’s nature to speak. His nature and desire are to reveal Himself. The chief means He uses is to speak in terms and ways that human beings can understand. He has spoken to us by Words, and He has spoken to us by His Son.
God’s Word is eternal (I Peter 1:25). God’s Word stands the test of time. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). Since God’s Word is eternally true, it does not change. Men change. Creation changes. Yet, as God is eternally unchanging, so is His Word. This fact should give us great confidence; in God, His Word, in the Scriptures, and in the Bible. Psalm 119:89 affirms this same truth. “Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.”
God’s Word is also foundational for life. It is a rock-solid foundation upon which to build a disciple’s life. Jesus explains this in Luke 6:46-49. He explains that the person who hears His Word and puts it into practice is like a person who builds a house on a solid foundation. When storms such as doubt, temptation or persecution come against that person, the faith of that person in Jesus will stand. It is inevitable that these trials will come. Healthy discipleship and healthy Church development need the foundation of Scripture engagement and application.
A third element of the nature of God’s Word is that it possesses absolute power. We see this as God created the heavens, and all galaxies by speaking them into existence (Psalm 33:6, 9; II Peter 3:5). He not only creates all things by His Word, but He also sustains all things, both visible and invisible by “the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3; Psalm 29:4). Jesus said that His Word is spirit and life. It is important that we understand God’s Word not only as communication of linguistic content but as a great power that makes things happen.1
This is especially important to remember when it comes to discipleship and church health. It is God’s Word that has the power to transform believers into healthy disciples.
A fourth element of the nature of God’s Word is that it is authoritative. It carries the supreme and ultimate authority that is unique only to God. God, as our Creator, Savior, and Lord has every right to tell us how we should live our lives. He does this primarily through His Word. He does nothing or says nothing, except through the prism of His love and wisdom. He expresses His wisdom, knowledge, desires, intentions, love, and grace through His Word.
When God shares His love with us, we have the obligation to treasure it. When He questions us, we should answer. When He expresses His grace, we are obligated to trust it. When He tells us His desires, we should conform our lives to them. When He shares with us His knowledge and intentions, we ought to believe that they are true.2
A final aspect related to the authority of God’s Word is the importance of the disciple embracing God’s Word with faith and obedience. Faith and obedience to God always bring blessing. Disobedience to God and His Word will bring about disappointment, defeat, and discipline from the Lord. This principle is found throughout Scripture (I Corinthians 10:11). Grace does not negate this principle to the disciple. It may blunt its force when forgiveness is sought, but it is a serious matter to neglect God’s commands or intentionally disobey them (Deuteronomy 30:16; Joshua 1:7-8; Psalm 1:1-3; Proverbs 29:18; Luke 11:27-28; James 1:22-25, and Revelation 1:3).
Jesus is Lord of His Church. He is the Master Teacher and Supreme Disciple-Maker. We must put His Word at the center of our evangelistic, disciple-making, and Church Planting efforts. This will help us bring about the healthy global Church development that we all desire.
1Frame, Doctrine of the Word, 50.
2Frame, Doctrine of the Word, 56.