“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
“This is how we distinguish true religion from superstition: when the Word of God directs us, there is true religion; but when each man follows his own opinion, or when men join together to follow an opinion they hold in common, the result is always concocted superstition.” John Calvin
“If Jesus Returns, Kill Him Again”
Early in the first decade of this third millennium, a Canadian atheist garnered for himself some sought-after public notoriety for his contentious attacks on religion in general, and his hate-filled rhetoric against Christianity in particular. Having secured the domain names of nearly a dozen “dot-ca” websites with pseudo-governmental names, he redirected unsuspecting online visitors to various of his anti-religion websites touting his own particular flavor of vitriolic atheism. His cybersquatting efforts resulted in him being brought before a Canadian arbitration board which issued a decision against him.
But it’s not David “Darwin” Bedford’s surreptitious cybersquatting for atheism that would most draw an indignant response from Christians. Rather it was the malicious, often vulgar, fervor of his antipathy towards Christianity. It seems, even, that the notion of honor among thieves – in this case transformed into decency among anti-deists – was an unreliable precept for Bedford since the acrimony of his atheism brought him disdain from among other atheists. One such comrade in unbelief bemoaned Bedford as a “hate filled and delusional atheist activist,” noting that his websites are “full of overtly offensive material – it is the very incarnation of bad taste. No wonder that some Christians fear us.”
Indeed, one of Bedford’s overtly offensive sites promotes the sale of anti-religion, anti-Christian tee shirts with such caustic quips as “I Am Causing People To Go To Hell,” “God Is A Scam,” and “Jesus Is Historical, His Followers Are Hysterical.” Others bear messages of outright vulgarity and jaw-dropping blasphemy that can only be intended to shock. From his “I Love Jesus Dead” and “I Am Successfully Killing Jesus – Ask Me How” shirts to “I Am Above God,” Bedford, who claims for himself the title of “Atheist Messiah,” certainly draws attention to his God-mocking cause. One picture of Bedford from 2005 is still making occasional rounds on the internet. It pictures the atheist bearing a placard with the words of another of his shirts, “If Jesus Returns, Kill Him Again.”
If asked, “would you wear one of these shirts,” even the most young-in-the-faith believer would instantaneously, perhaps vehemently, respond in the negative. Likewise, as is evidenced by at least one of Bedford’s atheist comrades, many who would never step across the threshold of a church would find such vitriol too insipid to condone or endorse.
For Such Were Some Of You
For believers, the instinctive reaction to such anti-Christian initiatives and God-mocking sloganeering cannot merely be avoidance. We must consider Paul’s rejoinder to the Corinthians, “And such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). We must apprehend the boundless grace of the Lord who would save Paul, “the chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), a man who, in Acts 23, could stand before the Sanhedrin and declare “I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day” (Acts 23:1), yet who merely one chapter earlier testified to a Jerusalem mob that “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons” (Acts 22:4). We must not wear the shirt, to be sure, but we must know the saving power of God as did Isaiah, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save” (Isa. 59:1).
As ambassadors of the Most High God (2 Cor. 5:20), we are commissioned to speak His truth in love (Eph. 4:15) to those captive in such fortresses of darkness (2 Cor. 10:3-4). We are to proclaim the gospel of truth to truth haters (Eph. 1:13), to shine the light of Christ where there is only the darkness of the world, and to pray for those who mock our God, hate us, and persecute us (Matt. 5:44). While we must not cast our pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6), we also must remember that Christ, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return” (1 Pet. 2:23). We must employ wisdom toward outsiders, with speech always seasoned with grace, as we respond “to each person” (Col. 4:5-6).
Would You Burn Your Bible?
The question that Christians must confront is not “would you wear the shirt,” but rather one that was proffered two hundred years ago in a sermon preached by John Newton, author of the renowned hymn “Amazing Grace.” The question he posed: Would you burn your Bible?
“I am not preaching to Jews or Mahometans, but to professed Christians. I am willing to take it for granted, that we all agree in acknowledging that the Scripture, the whole Scripture, is a revelation of the will of God. I hope there is not a person here, however immersed in the business, or drawn aside by the amusements and pleasures, of the world, who, if he were desired to throw the Bible, with deliberation and contempt, into the fire, would not be shocked at the proposal. I think he would say, If I have not paid that attention to the Bible which it deserves, yet surely I am not so wicked and presumptuous as to burn it.”
It is as likely true today as it was in 1800 with Newton that “professed Christians,” and even many non-professing worldlings, would find it altogether unthinkable to burn the Bible. Many would rightly proffer his rhetorical answer, “I am not so wicked and presumptuous as to burn it.” But the right answer, so quickly to be offered, is easily betrayed, as Newton proceeds to explain.
“If it be indeed the word of God, why have you not paid that attention to it which it deserves? The same reasons which would deter you from willfully throwing it into the fire, should induce you to study it carefully, to make it the foundation of your hope and the rule of your life; for if it be indeed the word of God, it is the rule by which your characters will be decided, and your everlasting state fixed, according to the tenor of the gospel, which proclaims salvation to all who have repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and to those only. It is painful to a serious mind to observe how much the Bible is neglected.”
You might surely, and rightly, shudder at the notion of burning your Bible, but what distinction would the ashes of a scorched Scripture have from an unsmoldering Word that you have left unread? As Charles Spurgeon preached to his Metropolitan Tabernacle congregation, “I do not wish to say much more about this, but I should like to push it home upon some of you. You have Bibles at home, I know; you would not like to be without Bibles, you would think you were heathens if you had no Bibles. You have them very neatly bound, and they are very fine looking volumes: not much thumbed, not much worn, and not likely to be so, for they only come out on Sundays for an airing, and they lie in lavender with the clean pocket handkerchiefs all the rest of the week. You do not read the word, you do not search it, and how can you expect to get the divine blessing? If the heavenly gold is not worth digging for you are not likely to discover it.”
Nineteenth-century Scottish churchman Horatius Bonar, in his Light And Truth: Bible Thoughts & Themes, opens his consideration of the Book of Acts with this brief, insightful commentary about the Bible which has been divinely conveyed to us.
“Our Bible is of God; yet it is also of man. It is both divine and human. It comes to us from God’s Spirit; it comes also from man’s spirit. It is written in the language of earth, yet its words are the words of Him ‘who speaketh from heaven.’ Natural, yet supernatural; simple, yet profound; undogmatical, yet authoritative; very like a common book, yet very unlike also; dealing often with seeming incredibilities and contradictions, yet never assuming any need for apology, or explanation, or retraction; a book for humanity at large, yet minutely special in its fitnesses for every case of every soul; carrying throughout its pages, from first to last, one unchanging estimate of sin as an infinite evil, yet always bringing out God’s gracious mind toward the sinner, even in his condemnation of the guilt; such is the great Book with which man has to do, which man has to study, out of which man has to gather wisdom for eternity, one of the many volumes of that divine library which is one day to be thrown open to us, when that which is perfect is come, and that which is in part shall be done away.”
Yet another author* has penned equally descriptive words about this special gift of providence to us.
The Bible contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable.
Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.
It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here too Heaven is opened and the gates of Hell disclosed.
Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart, and guide the fee.
Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure. It is given you in life, will be opened at the judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, rewards the greatest labor, and will condemn all who trifle with its sacred contents.
Let The Word Dwell …
“In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” John 1:4-5
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19
As the church enters this new decade, the command of her Lord through Paul remains immutable, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:1-2). We are to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). We are to “let the Word of Christ richly dwell” within us (Col. 3:16).
But as the visible church enters this new decade, she is increasingly bound in the grip of biblically untenable dalliances with worldliness that is borne of disregard for “the Word of Christ.” It is adopting the worldly spirit of the age of unbridled tolerance, promulgated by preaching a biblically illicit concept of God’s love as unconditional and enjoined with an equally doctrinally-void description that what it means to be a Christian is significantly less than the apprehension of biblical truth and substantially more about your subjective experience. The church is gleefully sailing the worldly seas of self in pursuit of a Scripturally insipid, not to mention forbidden (2 Cor. 6:14-16), sense of cultural relevance. It is beyond knee-deep in the waters of social justice employing worldly, pagan philosophies elevated alongside Scripture in which almost everyone is being categorized by their sin, their victim class, their gender (or self-proclaimed lack thereof), and/or their ethnicity.
A culturally contextualized gospel is being presented by scores of evangelical leaders and so-called pastors who declare such will bring unbelievers to the Jesus who loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life. If merely a half-decade ago it would have been considered fantastic for all but the most liberal of denominations to be seriously engaging the topic of women in the pulpit or whether defining one's faith by one's sin is evangelically valid, today such debates rage in, presumably, the most conservative sphere of evangelicalism. The question of wearing an atheist's tee shirt may seem ludicrous today, but, given the trajectory of a church which has effectively practiced Bible burning by raging neglect, perhaps it's not an unforeseeable action that can't be rationalized in the near-future church where tolerance is a supreme virtue and cultural relevance the coveted pinnacle of presumed divine blessing.
The woeful state of the visible, evangelical church is a result of its decades-long abuses of, and disregard of, the clear, authoritative, and eternally sufficient Scripture. The church has failed to heed the declaration of Spurgeon as he held forth against its Downgrade in his day: “Brethren, we shall not adjust our Bible to the age, but the age to the Bible.” In our ownday of downgrade, his are tragically appropriate and prophetic, “The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible is the religion of Christ’s church. And until we come back to that, the Church will have to suffer.”
“We are called to know. We are called to use our minds, to understand the truth of the revelation of God. Not to engage ourselves in experience as that which determines truth, not to be caught up in mysticism. But that is ever becoming the mode of operation of the church today. That is why you see the blurring together of Catholicism, liberalism, charismaticism, because it is all predicated on the same kind of mystical approach which wants to bypass the mind to feel God.” John MacArthur
As shocking as an atheist’s God-mocking tee-shirts are, as ghastly unthinkable as burning our Bibles is, it remains nonetheless a reality that the church at large is in a downgrade condition today because God’s historically-preserved, providentially delivered, sacred Text has been avoided, maligned, and augmented to satisfy self, coddle worldlings, and sustain an eager mindlessness among pew sitters more eager for experience and feelings than apprehension of divine truth. To the extent that the Word of the Lord is diminished in the pulpit and disregarded in the pew, the Light of the world (John 8:12) is being dimmed. Our Lord and Savior was killed not for any good works He performed, nor for any miracles He produced, but because the words He spoke revealed Him to be Incarnate God, “the Light” who “has come into the world.” The author of Life was killed by those who loved darkness. Killing the incarnate Word would silence the living Word, or so it was thought.
To Whom Shall We Go?
Christians rightly may not wear the “Kill Jesus Again” tee shirt of an atheist, but many will effectively silence Him all the same by keeping closed the very Word through which He saves, through which He speaks, and through which He sanctifies. Silencing Christ’s Word by neglect is silencing Christ in effect.
To those with a closed and dust-gathering Bible, the question of Peter to our Lord is the one that must finally be posed, and which, without His inscripturated Word, will go divinely unanswered: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68). But the question will not go completely unanswered by a church untethered from the Word. For, as Calvin noted, when the Word of God no longer directs us, we fall victim to concocted superstition. Regardless of how replete with the language of Christianity, regardless of how frequently the name of Jesus is invoked, apart from the voice of God speaking clearly in the Word of God, all that remains to answer Peter’s query will be the unsanctified, unordained, ineffectual, and foolish wisdom of men (1 Cor. 3:19).
It is a valid maxim that a bad habit is hard to break, but the inverse is equally true. A good habit is also hard to break. As we enter this new year, as we worship, let us resolve to establish the good and godly habit of disciplining ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-8) by letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, daily, continually. Let us glean wisdom from Spurgeon’s entreaty: “The Bible is our treasure. We prize each leaf of it. Let us bind it in the best fashion, in the best morocco of a clear, intelligent faith; then let us put a golden clasp upon it, and gild its edges by a life of love, and truth, and purity, and zeal. Thus shall we commend the volume to those who have never looked within its pages.” The Bible is our treasure. There, by the grace of God and the aid of His Holy Spirit, may our hearts be found in worship unto Him, in obedience to Him, and in awe of Him, “for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isa. 40:5).
*This excerpt is generally cited to an anonymous author, but may be the work of the 19th-century Danish non-conformist pastor Robert Chapman, a contemporary and associate of George Muller. Of Chapman, Spurgeon said he was “the saintliest man I ever knew.”