October 31, 1517 may not readily come to mind as part of a list of important dates, but it is extraordinarily important in the history of the church. Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the doors of the church in Wittenberg, Germany on this date; most history books consider it the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Yet in many respects the seeds of the Reformation had been planted years before. John Wycliffe, who lived in the 14th century, is often called the “Morning Star” of the Reformation. Wycliffe was responsible for translating the Scriptures into English from the Latin Vulgate, because he believed that the Word of God should be put into the hands of the people. “Sola Scriptura” - which means “by Scripture alone" - is the Latin term describing one of the main themes of the Reformation. The Word of God must take center ground, and the Christian and the Church must live upon it.
In our recent seminar on the book of Nehemiah, Rev. Dr. Gareth Edwards stated, “It should be the goal of every believer to understand the Bible. That requires the discipline of engaging both heart and mind in the study of God’s Word.” As the church of Jesus Christ, we are to be people of the Book. Dr. Edwards went on to say, “In private, it means not just merely reading the Bible but also endeavoring to find out its meaning and then applying it to our lives. One very important question we must always ask when studying any part of the Bible is, “What does this passage require me to do in my service to the Lord - to the glory of God the Father?”
The Word of God must be central to the life of the community of faith, the Church. In describing the people of God in Nehemiah’s day, Edwards said, “They listened collectively, they were united in their listening, they listened attentively.” They had all gathered to hear the reading of the law, they were united in listening to the Word and they listened for about six hours. Dr. Edwards pointed out that many find it difficult to spend an hour in worship listening. How sad! It should be our great delight to sit under the reading and preaching of the Word of God, and to spend time not only on the Lord’s Day but all throughout the week seeking to know God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.
Why do we so often neglect it? Why don’t we appreciate what we possess? Throughout the history of the Church, men have lost their very lives for their faithfulness to the Word of God! How precious is the Word of God to you? In II Timothy 3:14-15, Paul exhorts Timothy: “….continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Paul tells Timothy, a minister of the Gospel, to continue in what he has learned. The same holds true for all believers. What have you learned? Continue in it! Paul goes on in verses 16-17 to give the reason: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
God’s Word, given by inspiration, is to be the very thing by which we live. This Word must be central to our life as a congregation. How important it is to come together on the Lord’s Day, to study God’s Word throughout the week as well, and then to live our lives according to that Word. Dr. Edwards spoke of a story related by Robert Sumner in his book The Wonder of the Word of God, in which a man disfigured by an explosion lost the use of his eyes and hands. A new Christian, he keenly felt the loss of his ability to read the Bible. But, hearing of a woman in England who read braille with her lips, he acquired portions of the Bible in braille - only to find that the nerve endings in his lips had also been damaged in the explosion. One day he discovered that he was able to feel the raised dots with his tongue. Eventually he taught himself to read this way, and read through the Bible multiple times. O that we would have the desire and delight to hear, and read, and study God’s Word and that we would be transformed by it to the glory of God and the amazement of the world around us.