I can recall an occasion when members of a well-known sect knocked on my door and offered some materials designed to help me “study the Bible.” This sect is known (i) for its zeal in “witnessing” door to door, and (ii) for its denial of a number of the key teachings of the Christian faith. What struck me the most, however, was how well trained these visitors were. No matter what question I asked, or what argument I raised, they had a “proof text” to support their position. It seemed clear to me from my own efforts at Bible study that many of these proof texts were either lifted out of context, or, they involved a questionable translation in their special version of the Bible. Most importantly, in just a few minutes of conversation it was evident to me that these folks had never actually sat down and read through books of the Bible to understand the flow, context and setting. All they had done was memorize a large number of “proof texts” to support their points. I could see how these folks could make a persuasive and formidable case to someone who has not read much of the Bible.
Unfortunately, many Christians are not well prepared to meet the challenge of sects and cults who come “witnessing” at their front door. This is because even experienced Christians tend to argue with these sects on their terms. We are often inclined to simply close the door, or, if we are motivated, we approach them with our own set of proof texts. The problem is, the sects are usually better at this than we are. They spend huge amounts of time training for these doorstep encounters and they will come far better prepared for these encounters than we could ever hope to be. How should we prepare for encounters with cults, sects or just about anyone who needs to hear the gospel? Peter tells us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. . . .” 1 Peter 3:15-16. I submit that the best way to prepare is not simply to memorize a series of proof texts — a better approach is to practice the discipline of regular, systematic and prayerful Bible study. All too often, this discipline has been lost or ignored among Christians. We need to regain the discipline to read through entire books of the Bible and note the background, context and setting. A good commentary can be helpful. More importantly, we need to pray that God will help us understand what the Bible is saying, and how it applies to each of us. If we pursue this discipline, we will be well prepared to “give a reason for the hope that we have.” Many of us are starting to read the Bible in this way with the Essential 100 program. That’s a great start, but it’s only the beginning. St. Mary’s is committed to helping you to grow in your understanding of the Bible. Get in a small group and look for opportunities in Christian education. Stay tuned, more opportunities are coming.
Tom Morris is the vestry liaison for Christian Education at St. Mary’s.