“What do Presbyterians believe about the Bible?” Believe it or not, this is a question I get asked with some regularity. What is the Bible? Why do we use it? Is it really relevant to our lives today?
According to the Presbyterian Mission Agency:
“The Bible is a collection of 66 individual books that together tell the story of a group of people bound by a common faith in God. It is divided into two main sections: the Old Testament containing 39 books originally written primarily in Hebrew and the New Testament containing 27 books originally written primarily in Greek. For Presbyterians and others of the Reformed tradition the Bible is the means by which Christian believers come to understand how God has been present with humanity since the beginning of time and is present in our world today. By studying the scriptures we can begin to know of God’s faithfulness, constant love and eternal goodness.”
It is for this reason that reading the Bible in church and studying it at home is essential for those of us who seek to live as disciples of Christ. It is here that we learn about who God is, who we are, and how we are to relate to God and one another. In the pages of Scripture, we see God’s love and faithfulness unfold as His followers spread the message of peace and reconciliation. And it is here that we learn to live in ways that make peace and reconciliation possible.
The Book of Order tells us that as Presbyterians, we confess “the Scriptures to be the Word of God written, witnessing to God’s self-revelation. Where that Word is read and proclaimed, Jesus Christ the Living Word is present by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit. For this reason the reading, hearing, preaching, and confessing of the Word are central to Christian worship” (Book of Order, W-2.2001). In other words, (from a Presbyterian perspective), Christian worship simply doesn’t exist without the Christian Scriptures.
The Book of Order states that “Leaders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can be expected to affirm that “… the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments … [are] … by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to [them]” (W-4.4003b). This is more than passing agreement or mental ascent – it is a belief that governs our lives and actions, propelling us into a space where we are constantly open to the transforming power of God as we are made more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).
So what does this mean in a practical sense? To begin with, it means that we must give the Bible a central place in our lives. While there are a lot of good religious texts and self-help books on the market today, we affirm the belief that this one is the best. This means that when it comes to determining what we should believe, where we should focus our attention, or how we should act in a given situation, it is the God through the words of Holy Scripture, who has the final word. Not the government, our parents, our psychologist, our friends, or the latest best-selling author or hit public speaker.
Of course, for this to happen – for God to really have the final say – we must know what God has to say to begin with. And this doesn’t happen by osmosis. Simply spending time with the pastor or other believers doesn’t mean that you’ll get a good grasp on the contents of the Book or how they all fit together. In order for this to happen, you have to do some study. One of the ways we facilitate this is through weekly worship. Another is through Sunday School as we meet to discuss the Scriptures in community.
That said, there is no substitute for personal, daily study and reflection. If you aren’t a reader, this can be a challenge, so I invite you instead to consider joining me daily as I read through the Revised Common Lectionary on my YouTube channel. This is a great way to begin building familiarity with Scripture in around 10 minutes a day. I hope you’ll join me there!