03 July 2009

a response to gideons international

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.


The Lovable Southern Baptist said...

Pastor, I enjoyed reading your blog about the Gideons, and think a debate is healthy among Christians since what we all seek is to draw closer to Jesus Christ. I am a Gideon, and while I attend a Baptist church in Oklahoma I hope you don't mind my input on the discussion (it's not football season yet so Texans and Okies can still get along (-:). I've asked the question about distributing the entire Bible myself, and have been told that it is as much the cost as anything else ($1.35 or so for a Testament vs. $5.00 for a full hotel Bible). Also, the Testaments are a convenient size for pocket, purse, or backpack. The Gideons started distributing these Testaments in 1941 at the outbreak of World War 2, without Psalms & Proverbs, to the military first then to others, adding Psalms & Proverbs a few years later. Similar Testaments had been distributed by the American Bible Society for at least a hundred years prior to that, although my understanding is that they charged for them for the most part. I heartily agree about the discipleship of others, in that I was led to the Lord by a man in the Air Force who shipped out the next day. I could have easily been led astray if I'd ran into the wrong people. That said, the Lord eventually led me to good, godly people who "explained to me what I was reading," answered my questions and challenges, and put me on the right path. Even in our country where Bibles can be bought at any book store for a dollar, I've handed out New Testaments to children who've never had one before. I'm not sure that this is the case everywhere, but in our camp's area we try to let all the churches in the school district know we're making a distribution, so that students attending the area churches (by that I mean Protestant that believe and preach the Bible and accept the trinity of Father, Son, & Spirit) can be told by their Pastors or Youth Leaders how to make the most of the opportunity to witness to their friends as they receive a Testament. I fully believe that simply reading His Word can lead people to salvation, and that the Testaments are just the beginning for what that's worth. I never really understood the Old Testament, except for some of the stories, until I read the New Testament a couple of times. Just my two cents worth. I believe in this ministry and have a books with hundreds of testimonies of people that were led to the Lord using a Gideon Testament, and videos of several dozen more. There are also a couple of video testimonies at www.gideons.org that I encourage you to check out. Thanks for your time and God Bless you. Frank Rudd.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Frank,

Thank you for sharing your perspective on various aspects of the Gideon Ministry. We are a non-denominational group so diversity of opinion is something that the Gideon organization is very familiar with and functions within. We respect your opinion on those subjects you addressed on your blog.

It would be great if the Old Testament could be included in the small New Testaments that we distribute primarily to students, but the controlling factor is cost. BTW, Psalms and Proverbs are included. It takes a lot of money to distribute 73-million Bibles per year and we have to make the most of the donations received. I would surmise that one of the compromises made down over the 100+ years of Gideon service, is to omit the Old Testament from the small NT Bibles. It cost $1.30 for each of those small NTs and including the Old Testament would increase the cost and correspondingly reduce the number of NTs distributed.

Complete Bibles are distributed to hotels and the cost for one of those is $5 per Bible. This gives rise to an alternative for you to consider. If you want your church's donations to only go toward the purchase of full Bibles, we can designate it for hotel Bibles the next time we come, assuming you allow us to come again.

Again, thank you Pastor Frank for allowing us to come and share a little about the Gideon ministry and for sharing your perspective on the way we go about carrying out this ministry that God has given us.

We will be praying for our partner Prosper United Methodist Church and you specifically Pastor Frank, and we ask that you remember The Gideons in your prayers too - that we will be faithful in service and in distributing God's Word to a lost world.

In Christ's Service,

Bill Feath

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Frank, after reading your comments I felt I should post a short reply. I am also a Gideon and want to thank you for partnering with us to spread God's word! I appreciate your passion for His word and for your openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit. I would like to share a bit more on why we stretch the money that is donated for Bibles. There are many many times that our team members take Bibles overseas to small village schools, only to run out long before the end of the line. In many of these schools the childrens families cannot afford any books. In fact these Scriptures are the only book they will have to read. If we were to print full Bibles it would only mean that many less Scriptures being placed into hands that have never had one before. I am sure you would not limit God in His ability to work from only part of His word. In fact there have been many stories of our brothers and sisters in other countries who only have one page from the Bible to read and yet God works even through it. Would it be nicer to give a complete Bible, certain we agree. However until there is enough money to do so we will strive to make the most from what we have been give. May God richly bless you and your church family as you work to further His kingdom. Sincerely, Joe S.

Brandy said...

Pastor Frank, I wanted to extend my gratitude for your article. As I uncover more about the Gideon Society, it certainly seems to be an organization of "compromise", which Christ would have never tolerated. I'm quite shocked that the Gideon members are all ok and openly admit to only handing out the NT for the sake of "cost". That's like the new megachurches declaring holiness and righteousness because of their member number, instead of the quality of their work and teaching. The Bible simply cannot be compromised, shortened, in any way. If the OT is good enough for Christ, it should be good enough for the Gideons. I'm quite concerned with this organization and know that past members have been high level masons. We must be VERY wary these days of such things and scrutinize everything because as we know, Satan has come in through the back door, deceiving many and destroying the gospel, bit by bit. Thanks again for your article. I for one can appreciate your candor! Keep fighting the good fight!