St Helen’s Church of England is in the middle of the city of London, very close to the Headquarters of Lloyds and the Bank of England, in Bishopsgate. The church building itself is impressive, and dates back to the thirteenth century.
Yet what l most respect about this church is that at whatever point you interface with it, you are presented with an open Bible. A casual visitor to the St Helen’s building is presented with an array of options, CD’s, pamphlets, books, all broadcasting the Christian Gospel.
At midweek services and on Sundays the Bible is always read very well and then explained and applied by the preacher who has seriously prepared his sermon. The gathering of this Church is all about hearing God speak. The preaching at St Helen’s, is expository, faithful to the text of Scripture and engaging to the crowded congregation.
Growth groups are held during the week in the adjacent St Andrews Undershaft, recently renovated to provide meals for the many groups which gather to study the Bible each week. Drop into St Andrews during the day and you will see pairs of people scattered throughout the building, reading the Bible one to one.
C.H. Spurgeon referred to John Bunyan as a living Bible: ‘prick him anywhere, his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.’ Because of what we believe about the Bible, what is so apparent at St Helen’s must be the goal of every Church.
The Bible is God’s book – J.I Packer called it ‘God’s Preaching’ – as its source is in God himself, and so is incapable of error. It is self-authenticating, clear, totally necessary in order to know Him, and is the final court of appeal in all matters of faith and practice.
The late Reformed theologian R. C. Sproul is quoted as saying: ‘I think the greatest weakness in the Church today is that almost no one believes that God invests His power in the Bible.’ Do you think that is true, or was Sproul being overly pessimistic, since ‘almost no one’ is a very bleak assessment. He went on: ‘Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a technique, in anything and everything except where God has placed it: His word.’
If what Sproul says is the case, it will be evident in our Church preaching programmes. The programme may be top heavy with social issues and topics and light on in Bible coverage. This is understandable as the culture around us becomes more and more confronting against the Christian worldview, so preachers tend to address the immediate threat to their congregations.
But Christian maturity comes from understanding and obeying the Bible. Throughout Acts, Luke shows how the Gospel is unstoppable in its powerful movement from Jerusalem, to the ends of the earth, Rome. Again and again we see how the Gospel is God’s powerful means of saving unbelievers. In Acts 20:32 Paul commends the elders of the Ephesian Church ‘to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.’ So not only does this word bring the unregenerate to life (James 1: 18), it also leads the regenerate to Christian maturity and Christlikeness of character (2 Tim 3: 16-17).
Martin Luther stressed that the people of God are recognised by their possession of the holy word of God: ‘And even if there were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, a holy people must exist there, for God’s word cannot be without God’s people, and conversely God’s people cannot be without God’s word.’
So check out the literature available at your Church door; encourage the Bible reading roster to be well prepared; equip the growth group leaders for their leadership, perhaps encourage them to part-time study at a Bible College; challenge members about reading the Bible one to one, it will be a mutual benefit ; encourage a congregational Bible reading plan.
Think about having a Saturday afternoon and evening introduction to a Bible book which will be studied that term. And then check out your preaching plan: do you have a balanced nutritional diet. Will you spend time in an Old Testament book, which Gospel will be the focus this year, and which letter? Check what portion of your sermon is spent in explanation of the text, and you may be shocked by how little time you spend in actual exposition. Ask yourself: ‘At every point at which my church contacts people, does it do so with an open Bible, are our people growing in maturity, through hearing and being encouraged in the doing of the Scripture?’
Kevin Vanhoozer’s Hearers and Doers has as its central thesis that Israel was often held captive by secular views of Kingship. The prophets were to declare the counter reality of God’s word. So too the Church can be led astray by idolatrous practices, pursuing technique and programmes rather than fearing God and living according to his counter reality.
Pastors are the doctors of the Church, who minister health to the body of Christ by teaching the Bible. They must de-programme and re-programme disciples, ‘to follow Jesus everywhere, before everyone and at every time’. The Church exists to train disciples to read the Bible and understand their place in the city of God as they inhabit the world.
Vanhoozer quotes C.S. Lewis: “the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ and to make them little Christs.” This is the whole purpose of God for which the whole universe was created. ‘The goal is to train disciples to walk around in the strange new world of the Bible, even as they live in the familiar old world of the present! I finish with Tertullian’s words: ‘We meet to read the books of God’