Things 21st Century American Christians Can Take For Granted
I recently started reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a book that I have read many times before and have recommended to many others. This book is known as a classic when it comes to describing and talking about Christian community. Part of what makes a book a classic is that you can read it over and over again and pick up new things or have new thoughts strike you each time you read it. I had such an experience as I cracked open this book again and read one of its opening sentences: “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.” It seems that Bonhoeffer wrote these words because of his experience leading an illegal seminary that trained Christian ministers while the Nazis rose to power in Germany; he knew the blessing of Christian community, but also recognized that Christians could be opposed by the government and have to live in hiding or secrecy, so he knew to appreciate the presence of other Christians.
His words made me appreciate the freedom American Christians have today in gathering with others in weekend worship and in smaller gatherings without fear of arrest or execution. Early Christians (and even some today in certain areas) could not gather to sing praises at the top of their lungs or openly invite someone to a Bible study or church-sponsored group, but today we have the privilege of choosing from a number of local churches and have numerous opportunities for smaller gatherings. Rather than appreciate these blessings, we find churches fighting/competing with each other or individuals complaining that a Bible study or group does not fit their expectations or desires.
This statement by Bonhoeffer and reflecting on his experience made me think of other things I often don’t appreciate as a Christian living in 21st century America. There are many things I could note, but a common theme emerged as I reflected upon things that we often take for granted in regards to the Bible.
Being Able to Read the Bible
For much of church history, Christians could not read the Bible on their own for a number of reasons. Some Christians didn’t know how to read; others didn’t have access to a copy of the Bible, as copies were hard to produce and thus expensive before the printing press (and that was after it was legal to be a Christian -- the first Bibles would be confiscated and burned!). Still others were not able to read the Bible as it was not translated into their language. People literally died to get the Bible translated and printed, yet many times we don’t even open the Bibles we have. We should not take for granted that we have access to God’s Word, and we should not let things around us get in the way of this tremendous blessing that we have.
Having Options in Reading the Bible
Not only can we read the Bible, there are many options available to do this. Many Christians had only one option to read the Bible and thus might not be able to understand it. Imagine if you only had the King James translation -- because of the language, you might not understand everything you read. Now, however, we have a plethora of Bible translations in English, so if you have difficulty understanding a passage, you can look to another translation. There are even paraphrases that can help you see familiar Bible passages in new ways. Yet, we sometimes complain about how many Bible translations we have rather than appreciate this wonderful blessing to help us know and understand God’s Word!
Having Help in Reading the Bible
In addition to having the many different translations of the Bible in our hands, we also have many helps in reading the Bible. There are countless study Bibles that provide details about background or other questions we might have so that we can understand what we read. Scholars continue to produce commentaries on the Bible to help explain what is going on and what it means, and the internet age has made these sorts of tools (as well as the teaching of gifted Bible teachers) accessible to us. Yet we often read something that might be confusing, and instead of seeking to find illumination into the mystery via a few clicks or turning a few pages, we give up.
Let Us Appreciate This Blessing...And Opportunity
Alongside of Life Together, I have been reading through Jared Wilson’s recently released book called The Gospel-Driven Church and came across a section that I find intriguing in light of my reflections inspired by Bonhoeffer on things 21st century American Christians can take for granted. Wilson points out that several studies from different groups have shown that the number one factor in a person’s spiritual growth is his or her engagement with the Bible -- this is the greatest catalyst for spiritual growth. I do not think this means that Christians in past ages who were not able to read the Bible were not mature in their faith, as they likely would memorize and meditate on those parts of the Bible to which they had access. However, I do think this reminds us of the tremendous opportunity we have to grow in our faith because of our unprecedented access to God’s Word; we can get our hands on it, read it, and understand it.
Therefore, the danger is not just that we take for granted our ability to gather with others and to read God’s Word, but that we will not take advantage of the tools God has given us to know Him more and the ability to be made to be more like Christ. Let us not take these things for granted but rather appreciate them and utilize them to the glory of God.
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