Sacred writings have a unique place in humankind’s spiritual quest. There is something about words or thoughts, written down, that have power. Spoken words often disappear into thin air, but written words have a more permanent quality: they can be preserved and passed on from one generation to the next. More than that they can be copied and spread.
In the book of Exodus, in the Old Testament, we read that God carved sacred writings, the Ten Commandments, into stone tablets. When we think of how paper fades and crumbles with age, the material carrying these words convey a message as well. “Carved in stone” has become a metaphor for that which is fixed; meant to last.
The Bible is the book of the church of Jesus Christ. It is the source book for its faith and life. It sees the Old Testament as the account of the people of God struggling with life, temptations, opposition, problems, joys, blessings, etc. It is the story of people by turns seeking the will of God, and disregarding the will of God. There are prophets, and kings, and plenty of ordinary people, working, slaving, fighting, worshiping, caring, suffering; indeed coping with life as it comes to all: trying to make sense of it in the light of a strong belief in the One God.
The New Testament is occasioned by the coming of Christ, the incarnate child of God. It tells that story, and its meaning as the early followers of Jesus struggled to be true to Him, and recorded what they saw, heard, and experienced. In the early centuries these writings were gathered and eventually canonized; that is, declared to be the received Word of God for the church.
The church is made up of disciples, which means learners or students, and as such they are students of the Bible. The Bible is read and studied by individuals for personal guidance and enrichment, and is the central text which shapes the life and worship of the church.
In the Anabaptist tradition the Bible is not just for personal enrichment. “No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God,” wrote Peter. [2 Peter 1:20] This means that the church interprets the scripture together in community. Each person can bring forward an insight or understanding, but the larger meanings are worked at together in a move toward harmony.
This points to another key aspect of the meaning of church: namely, that members listen to each other, and respect each other. This together-approach to interpreting the Bible builds community; it strengthens the church.
Reverence for the Word, and respect for each other, bring us closer to Your truth.