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For the uninitiated, I’ve been using this space for an on-again, off-again series on the state of the church. I started this back in January, and here in May I’m in Part 8. That should tell you something about my frequency and commitment! The first five parts were examining some of the reasons the church generally, in Western culture, has seen such a steep drop-off in engagement especially among Millennials (my own generation) and Gen-Zs. In Part 5, I looked at bad theology. I wrote about how so many evangelical Christians in these emerging generations hold to beliefs that are in flat contraction to the Scriptures and have worldviews at odds with the Gospel. Those are self-identifying evangelicals, never mind what we would expect to find outside those churches! I wrote about how we need to rediscover the primacy of biblical teaching and align our thinking with it. 

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This was the main point Kevin Schular brought across this past Sunday. In Amos 7, God gives the prophet Amos a vision of a plumb line- a primitive construction tool to ensure that a wall is being built in a sturdy and dependable way. And he identified the plumb line as the Scriptures. Are our lives being lived plumb with God’s word?

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Then, earlier this week, I came across this article from Christianity Today. (https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2022/april/state-of-bible-reading-decline-report-26-million.html) The headline declares that 26 million Americans stopped reading the Bible regularly during the last two years of the pandemic. An annual national survey found the single biggest drop year-to-year in the history of the report during the pandemic. The whole article is worth reading, but here’s the main conclusion the article comes to: the dramatic drop in Bible reading is directly related to the recent dramatic drop in church attendance. Which, of course, was prompted (or accelerated) by Covid. I wrote about that in Part 2 of this newsletter series.

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So apparently, here’s what happens. When people stop gathering together for worship, Bible reading takes a hit. When people stop gathering for prayer, Bible reading takes a hit. When people stop coming together to hear teaching from the Bible, Bible reading takes a hit. When people stop joining with one another in small groups to discuss what God is saying, Bible reading takes a hit. And when Bible reading takes a hit, the worldviews and lives of followers of Jesus deviate more and more from the truth passed down to us.

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Maybe that doesn’t make sense. Why should the lack of “corporate” activity have anything to do with my private devotion? Why shouldn’t Bible reading have increased during the pandemic? What else did we do during all those hours at home? In circumstances that turned the world upside down, why wouldn’t people have sought the transcendent more eagerly in order to make sense of those circumstances?

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In the heart of the pandemic, one of the most life-giving activities for me was “Men Unite in Misery”, a men’s outdoor workout group some of us guys from The Bridge started. Twice a week we met outside somewhere to do countless push-ups, squats, and crunches. I have often wanted to work out regularly, but never had the kind of sustained motivation to do that. However, in getting together with other guys a couple of times a week, there was accountability. There was friendship and connection. There was opportunity to learn from men who knew a lot more about fitness and exercise than me. And what this meant was a corresponding motivation to keep working out on off-days at home, by myself. Conversely, I found that the longer I went without the group workout, the less desire I had for the at-home workout, regardless of how good and healthy I knew it was.

 

See, it’s awesome to read the Bible regularly, daily, even multiple times a day on your own. But the Bible is also meant to be read and heard and obeyed in community. Think about the letters of Paul to the churches of the ancient world. Did everyone get it immediately uploaded to their Bible app? A digital copy sent to their email? Did the admin assistant fire off a bunch of photocopies? No, you had one copy, read corporately. You heard it in community, you discussed it in community, you obeyed it in community. One of the downfalls of all the ways we are able to engage with the Bible privately (and there are many, many gifts in that!) is that we forget how crucial the corporate aspect is. Bible and community go together.

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So this is the way forward. What we see at The Bridge is an increasing number of people joining together for corporate worship. That is so exciting, and I am so grateful for that. My prayer is that this will also lead to increased knowledge of and obedience to the Word of God. My prayer is that at least in our church, bad theology will become more and more rare. My prayer is that a generation will be formed by God’s truth rather than the pseudo-truths of our world as they devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42).