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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth?

October 19, 2012

Back about 1950 years ago, the Apostles and others began writing their experiences of God through Christ. We call them Gospels and Epistles. They were following in the tradition of their Jewish forebears, whose Bible most of us now know as the Old Testament.

The copies of the Gospels and Epistles were passed around from Church to Church, sometimes in fragments, sometimes at great risk to the passers. Like the Old Testament, their words were sacred, precious, and handled with great care.

Men and women gave their lives to protect those words.

Priests, prophets and scribes toiled meticulously to copy and re-copy the manuscripts verbatim.

Laymen and women committed huge portions of them to memory in order to retell the stories from one generation to the next.

In the Church era, great Councils met to clarify points of doctrine found in the Scripture. In the liturgical Churches, copies of Scripture (especially the Gospels) are carried around with high reverence. In synagogues, scrolls of the Torah are kept in tabernacles and read soberly for the congregation. For many Protestants, the family Bible is one of the most valuable possessions in the home.

And now, some Texas cheerleaders (and others) have been making huge banners with Holy Writ on them for their football teams to break through as they enter the field.

One banner reads: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).

Over the centuries, these words have encouraged martyrs in their deaths, prophets in their mission, and saints in time of grief and persecution.

To our 21st century Church they mean, “Go Team Go!”

Another banner reads: “We are more than conquerors” (Rom 8:37).

Was St. Paul talking football? Not really. This is what he was talking about:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things, we are made more than conquerors, through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:35-36).

Hmm.

The blood of martyrs, the voice of prophets and Apostles, the message of grace, all in tempera paint and newsprint, ready to be ripped to shreds by hyped-up football players in Texas.

But, isn’t this a witness?

“To what?”, I have to ask. I’m all for free and public expressions of faith. But my question isn’t whether or not it’s a witness, but whether or not this is appropriate use of God’s words.

If these Bible verses on the football field (and other spots of questionable display) are a witness to anything, it is a witness to the fact that the American Church is soft. We have become so much a part of the culture that we have no prophetic voice left in the culture.

The only persecution our young people seem to know is having to take books home to study.

The only famine they experience is not having enough money for Taco Bell.

Their only sense of danger is having to find ways to avoid being caught in doing all the things non-Church youth are doing.

If there is any witness in this, it is that we have taught Christian youth very poorly about the sacredness of the message. Instead, they have been trapped by cleverness of words. Instead of teaching the heart, the Bible has become a quippy catch-phrase book.

Am I being too serious?

Maybe. But why ask me? Why not ask the Christians in Moslem countries who have to keep their Bibles secret and who treasure every word because of persecution. Would they make a spectacle of the words they keep so dear out of fear of their governments?

Why ask me? Ask the kids who clamor over New Tesaments when the Gideons give them away in South America or sub-Saharan Africa or the crowded nations of southeast Asia. There are never enough and often their Testament is the only book they own. Would those kids use those Testaments as props for the local pep squad?

Why ask me?

* Why not ask the Anabaptists who were driven from home and farm, often martyred, for their fealty to the written Word?

* Why not ask the pioneer Americans who built schools and homes based on daily readings of Scripture?

* Why not ask the Christians in the arena, some of whom may have heard the Apostles speak those very words live and in person?

(Maybe the Romans could have written Bible verses on paper that the lions could charge through on their way to their victims.)

The cheerleaders won the first round of their case in civil court, and I think that is good. Free speech is free speech, after all.

But maybe they’re not being asked the right question: Does it really honor God and the Bible to do what you are doing?

Does using Sacred Writing fulfill the instruction of the Apostle Paul: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

I think the answer is evident.

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4 Comments
  1. Good points, Brian. I really enjoyed this. I admit I felt a little uncomfortable as I watched the coverage on the news, but I didn’t know why until I read your post. I see where you’re coming from, Brian, and I agree. However, after some thought, I’m thinking that if even one person who sees the scriptures displayed at a football game is ‘grabbed’ by the Word and seeks God, then it’s okay in God’s sight. Also, I think the majority of the Christian adults/parents are literally caught thinking to themselves about the true meaning and context of the Word when they see the banners.

  2. Here’s how I try to look at these things. What if they had put on their banner some Catholic catechism about having Mary intercede for the football team? Would that also be free speech?

    They’re an officially sanctioned school group (and in a monopoly position as such, too, being the only one allowed out on the field in that capacity). Ought they be allowed to thus proselytize under the guise of free speech? To me, once they are acting under the aegis of government, then other duties come into play, such as neutrality as to religion.

    I think you are spot on as to the inappropriateness of choosing this particular venue, and the method of their witnessing.

    • I do think it will be struck down by a higher court and can see the justification, especially since it’s not a church school. However, I don’t think God has a problem with the display of the Message in a secular school. After all Jesus commanded us to ‘go into all the world.’

    • Bob, I’m no constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that if the Catholic students wanted to put quotes from the catechism on banners, that would be free speech also (they already have the Hail Mary pass 🙂 . Granted, I would be more comfortable if these were not in public schools, however all kinds of divergent ideas and opinions are permitted in public schools and religious expressions should not be stifled. Religion is an integral part of public life. I suspect that students are exposed to Buddhist ideas while learning about the Dalai Lama, Hindu ideas in gym classes that include yoga, Moslem ideas while discussing tolerance and terrorism, etc. There should be no repression of those discussions, either.

      Obviously, as a religious issue, I think it is an inappropriate use of Scripture. I’m all for witnessing in the public forum – Churches have crosses, windows, statuary, etc. that all publicly declare the Gospel. I don’t think I would even mind if they left these verses in Texas on posters or banners. However, allowing football players to mangle them AND implying that God is more on the side of one football team than the other seems to me a poor witness at best.

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