I no longer watch soap operas but, in my time, particularly as a student, I indulged in my fair share of them. There is a type of character that appears in many of these shows that represents a less than appealing stereotype of what it is to be a Christian. Narrow-minded, judgemental, censorious and often quoting snippets of scripture to have a pop at someone; these individuals seem to be an essential staple in the cast list of most of the soaps. Dot Cotton, Nel Mangle, Harold Bishop and Edna Birch are just a few who spring to mind. I want to include Ena Sharples, but that is before my time and I’m not sure of her Christian credentials, but she fitted the bill in other ways! Such stereotypes do Christians no good and in my experience are far from realistic. Why? Because I’m not sure how much scripture many Christians could actually quote!
I have known Christians from time to time who have the capacity to quote chapter and verse to back up whatever point they are trying to make or maybe just to indicate disapproval, but I must admit to feeling slightly inadequate in the face of this and not a little uneasy. As I have matured in my faith, from very certain, black and white views in my teens, I have learnt that the Bible is to be approached with a certain caution because we can of course misuse it to back up whatever views we may currently hold. One of the problems for the Church of England is that there is often unfamiliarity of this sacred text from even the most regular worshippers. This is a real weakness and one that perhaps we can address with the, albeit gradual, building up of study courses or prayer groups where a much greater depth of knowledge and appreciation can be achieved.
It has to be said, however good a preacher might be, for a Christian to grow up and become the person God wants them to be, they need more than a weekly sermon Sunday by Sunday. We need to learn to read our Bibles regularly, perhaps with the aid of scripture notes.
A good starting point is the gospels. There is a reason we stand up in our services when we have a reading from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and that is to acknowledge the centrality of these texts to our faith they are the Word made flesh. Here we read about Jesus of Nazareth. I don’t think there is anything stale or old fashioned about His life story, teachings and death and resurrection. If ever there was a page turner, it is these gospels, but so often we only encounter them when sat in church, no doubt longing for a short sermon to follow!
I am often struck by how well Muslim friends know the Koran. Serious Muslims treat their holy book with great respect and devotion and they read it regularly. Lent is approaching, and so perhaps we might all try harder to get to know the Bible, our rule book, our manual for living, although why wait? The need is imperative if we are to take seriously the call to discipleship as summed up beautifully in the prayer of Saint Richard:
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly.
My hope and prayer for our church in 2019 is that more of us might be able to make that prayer a reality.
Warm wishes, Revd Christine