Captivated by the Word

By Christopher Raley and Laurie Mathers

While attending college in Oregon, I worked as a janitor at a Baptist church. A church of Russian immigrants met there as well, and a man from that church named Vladimir worked with me. One day he came to our boss confused and a little agitated. In broken English he relayed to us that in Russia, if you had a Bible at all, you had one version of it. Now in America, he couldn’t decide which Bible to buy because there were so many different versions. Which was the right one?

I remember being convicted by his earnestness. I had long since taken for granted our abundance of Bibles. And for just as long Ihad taken for granted my need to read the Bible and absorb it.

As Heath shared with us a few Sundays ago (see Tyndale’s Confidence ) the word of God in the hands and on the tongues of the common man is one of the great legacies of the Protestant Reformation.

The Catholic Church had, over the centuries, become an institutional behemoth with far-reaching political heft, and as the sole arbiters of the Scriptures, it wielded absolute power over people’s lives, consciences, and souls.

This heft had increased as people’s access to Scripture decreased. By the time of the Reformation, the Bible was available only in Latin, a language the common people had long since left behind, but which remained the scholarly language of choice for the clergy and the educated elite.

This educational gap between the clergy and the layman (non-clergy) meant that God’s direct revelation of himself and the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ lay in the hands of a very few. Those few were using it to their own ends. Given the political power at stake, providing laymen access to the Scriptures was a risky business.

It didn’t take much education to recognize the abuses of the Church, it only took a plain reading of Scripture. If the layman was given the ability to compel the clergy to defend their practices from Scripture, then the Church’s whole power structure could crumble. And that is exactly what happened. The Bible, in the hands of the people, turned the world upside-down.

The Bible is the word of God given by the Spirit, preached by his prophets and apostles, and written down for us. It is the straight stick. When we hold it up, whatever is crooked, whether it be sin or bad teaching, becomes obvious. If we don’t know the Bible, aren’t captive to its truth, we hand our souls over to falsehood.

Five-hundred years have passed since the Reformation began and, though we are surrounded by Bibles, we are in peril of losing this precious dispensation of God’s grace, not to the government or to the world, but to our own neglect.

 "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen." - Martin Luther

"Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen." - Martin Luther