One of the benefits of the Industrial Revolution in Sweden in the 19th Century was that it required more people who were educated enough to work in the factories and on the machinery used in them. The Swedish State Church helped greatly by making sure that people could read well enough to be to be confirmed in their faith by the church. But this had a somewhat unintended consequence. It also meant that people could read well enough to understand what the Bible was saying for themselves. Our movement came into being as people started to read their Bibles for themselves and began to question some of the things their pastors had taught which they felt were not really biblical. Their watch word became “where is it written?” Many of those old Swedes knew their Bible better than some of the so called “theologians” of that day. Reading their Bibles faithfully meant that they had a very good road map for how to live life and often showed a wisdom in life far beyond their secular educational level. Knowing their Bibles well meant they learned to live life God’s way and so they often found a joy and purpose in life that had been missing before. But today, we are discovering that many people no longer read their Bibles well enough to be guided by what it teaches, and are consequently paying a very deep spiritual and emotional price for their biblical illiteracy.
There is a story that I hope is apocryphal but which is probably truer than we would like to admit. A new pastor decided to look in on a children’s Sunday school class. The teacher introduced him and then said they were studying the story of Joshua. So he said, “Let’s see how much you have learned.” Then he asked, “Who tore down the walls of Jericho?” A boy named Johnny, who often was in trouble, quickly said, “I don’t know but it sure wasn’t me!” Taken aback, the pastor said, “Come on, tell me who tore down the walls of Jericho.” The teacher was quick to respond and said, “Johnny has his problems but if he said he didn’t do it, I believe him.” Flustered, the pastor went to the Sunday school superintendent to talk about the incident. She said, “Well, we’ve had trouble with Johnny before. Let me talk to him and see if we can get to the bottom of it.” Really bothered now, the pastor went to the church board and laid out the whole story including the response of the teacher and superintendent. A white-haired man thoughtfully stroked his chin and said, “Well, Pastor, I move we just take the money from the general fund to pay for fixing the wall and leave it at that.”
It is a funny story, but also more often true than we might like. We live in a biblically illiterate world which often leads to people making very bad decisions in life. Those bad decisions are compounded by others which often make matters much worse. Some of what pass for teaching in the church is more worldly in nature than people think. If we asked the question, “Where is it written?,” and then went looking ourselves, we would often save ourselves a lot of grief and heartache. How well do you know your Bible? And do you base your decisions in life on what it says? If you do, you might find that it makes all the difference in the world in terms of joy and purpose in life. By the way, “Where is it written?”