last sunday prosper united methodist church welcomed representatives of the gideons to share about their ministry. how many times have you stayed in a hotel or visited someone in the hospital and found a gideons Bible there? and while no one can argue that reading the Bible is a bad thing, or that distributing Bibles to others in native languages is inherently harmful, i would like to offer some thoughts on the practices of the gideons, as they were described at church.
1. bravo to the gideons for distributing 73 million Bibles last year. however, most of the Bibles they sent were tiny new testaments with psalms. i am a Christian, and i love the words of the new testament. but those words have their foundation in the old testament, and to remove thousands of years of traditions and stories of God's powerful love and acts of salvation diminishes the power of the whole Bible. we must never forget that the old testament (or "first" testament or "hebrew Bible" if you are uncomfortable with connotations around the word 'old,') was Jesus' Bible. when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, where did he draw his strength from? what were the words that he spoke? from his Bible-- the old testament. there should be no short-hand version of the scriptures. the gideons leave the full canon in hotels; it should be the same everywhere.
2. the presenter mentioned the gideons' work in frisco schools last year: they were allowed on campus at 8:00 to set up a table and leave Bibles (again, new testament only). they had to leave by 8:30 "because gideons are forbidden on school grounds." the presenter encouraged the congregation to pray for our country, that the aclu and others would not have the power to restrict access by religious groups to students in public schools. as i said in a sermon last year on the issue of separation of church and state, the role of schools is to educate students in science, math, etc. we should leave religious education to the institution created by God for that stated purpose, the church. i am glad more than 50% of the frisco students took home a new testament; but what happens next? who will guide them in exploring it? shouldn't we-- gideons and everyone else-- challenge churches to help their kids learn the Bible? are we assuming they already do this well? or are we hesitant so as not to offend?
3. the presenter mentioned most of the Bibles distributed included a "plan of salvation" (not u.s. student new testaments). i am not sure of the need for a plan of salvation. we worship a God of grace, who acts boldly for salvation of humankind (in the old and new testaments!): "i have observed the misery of my people who are in egypt; i have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. indeed, i know their sufferings, and i have come down to deliver them from the egyptians" (exodus 3:7-8). a list of questions and scriptures is a good start, but it can reduce the life of faith to a checklist. i prefer to speak of a God of grace, who breaks into human history to save us-- the initiative is God's, not ours.
i do not question the goodness of the mission or its fruitfulness. 73 million free Bibles is a wonderful thing, and i am thankful for those volunteers and contributors who make it possible. still, challenges to what we believe and practice are important parts of living as witnesses for God. it would have been inappropriate to respond in this way in a worship service, since the subject matter was already pretty heavy last week (see post for june 28), plus worship isn't usually the best place for debate. i hope our friends the gideons will take this response in the spirit it is offered, from a partner in ministry whose goals are the same: to spread the good news of God to a world in desperate need to hear it.