Do you know how rare the picture on the cover for this month is? This picture shows how our son Tim (who has a low mental ability) enjoyed being read to by his mother. Not too long ago, I was at a teachers' conference in which a reading specialist said that in 1960 prior to entering the first grade, the average child received around 2,000 hours of literary experience and that the average now is closer to 5 minutes. What that boils down to is that 40 years ago most preschool children were being read to, and now most of them are not. This has enormous implications for educators and those planning for public education in the future. In this article, however, we would like to suggest some implications for the Church.
Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ (Romans 10:17 NIV). When I was an atheist in the 1950s, one of the posters that we used to use for advertising said "More people have been killed in the name of Christianity than all the cannibals of the earth put together have eaten." I have no idea where anyone got data to support that claim, but I am sure it is true. The history of all world religions has been pregnant with ignorance, prejudice, and charismatic leaders taking uneducated followers and leading them to do horrible things.
In the Christian system, we have a way to stop the foolishness. Christ taught a system of peace, love, nonviolence, and individual responsibility. The followers of Christ were not to follow any human leader and, in fact, were condemned when they identified with human leaders.
My brothers, some from Chloe's household have informed me that there are quarrels among you, What I mean is this: One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another. "I follow Apollos"; "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:12).Tragedies like Jim Jones, Marshall Applewaite, and David Koresh have happened because people followed what their charismatic leaders said instead of following the Bible. American churches today are increasingly becoming dependent on talented orators with the membership having marginal biblical literacy at best. Low literary ability and minimal motivation to study and learn for oneself what God wants us to do has put a major emphasis on entertainment during worship service and minimal learning. This is not only dangerous because of the power struggle it produces and the fertile soil it provides for the David Koresh type of leaders, it also makes any type of real unity impossible.
Biblical literacy is the basis of real unity. This discussion makes an assumption that many in our culture do not believe is true, and that assumption is that there is such a thing as Truth. Many orators and writers have attempted to convince us that Truth is subjective and that there are no absolutes. This notion is expressed erroneously in the Church as tolerance. As the United States has moved into the twenty-first century, we find ourselves moving rapidly into a pluralistic society from one that was generally homogeneous. In the past, our children went to school with kids from families that in some way identified with Jesus Christ. Now a typical first grade class will have kids from Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist, Bahai, and atheist families.
As long as religious practices are rooted in the following of leaders who tell people what to believe, there will never be an understanding on the part of individuals that will allow any unity to occur. If we can read the teachings of the religious systems that we are considering, we can make intelligent choices about those systems. We have long maintained in this journal, that the Bible is so beautifully and logically suited to living life that it stands far above any man-made creed. People can see the weaknesses of the basic teachings of false religions if they read what is taught and make comparisons. Even journals like this one should not be taken seriously unless the views expressed are compared to what is actually taught in the Bible or in the other religious system being explored.
Figure A represents the concept we are trying to express in diagrammatic form. If Truth is expressed as a line in the graph, then any teaching that is not Truth will be outside of Truth. If we can read teachings A, B, C, D, E, and F, we can see their weaknesses and discard them or modify them, moving ourselves closer to Truth. This is not just true of world religions, it is also true of misunderstandings of the Bible. All this can occur only if we are capable of reading with understanding the teachings of the manuscripts we are considering. We would like to point out that this is not an issue of tolerance. We are not suggesting that anyone should be persecuted or abused in any way because of their belief system. Tolerance has to do with the way people are treated, not what we believe to be true.
Real needs congregations need to address reading. Churches whose primary objective is to provide a social outlet for their memberships will not respond to this next point. These are also frequently the congregations whose primary worship thrust is to entertain their members. We would suggest that this type of church is at odds with the biblical definition of "pure religion" which is biblically defined as "to visit the widows and orphans in their afflictions and keep oneself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). Congregations that address these types of issues are what we are calling real needs congregations. (For an interesting article related to this, you might wish to read "Please God, I Want to Read" in Guideposts, September, 2000, page 46.)
People who cannot read and comprehend what they are reading are incredibly vulnerable in our society. They are less likely to be able to find stable jobs that provide an acceptable standard of living, more apt to be led by charismatic religious leaders, more likely to be taken in by scams, and more likely to make major errors in managing their resources. Churches have learned over the years that just passing out money or food or clothing does not really address the real needs of people. It provides a temporary solution to their immediate problem, but it does not provide a way for them to become self supporting and less vulnerable to the con artists of this world. I have seen an ad by someone that says "give a man a fish and you satisfy his hunger for a day. Teach him to fish and you satisfy his hunger for a lifetime." This does not mean that you do not give the fish, but it does mean that real needs must be addressed on a broader scope. We would suggest that a mission outreach needs to include reading as a means of helping people become self supporting spiritually and physically.
When we titled this article "Reading for the Future," we used a picture which focuses on helping our children be prepared for the future by reading to them and developing a love for reading and literature. It is vital for children and kids; those who do not have it are doomed to a much more difficult struggle than children who have been given extensive literary experience. It is also true of our society as a whole and even people in other countries and cultures. As the computer age brings us all closer together we will find reading to be even more vital for our future. This is something everyone of every age in every congregation can be a part of. There is no limit to the good that can be done.
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