Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Waterproof Bible

The Duckback (a trademark) raincoats were a craze in my school days. As its name makes it clear, the coats made of waterproof material rolls the water just like water doesn't make a duck's back wet. I had water proof watches, the manufacturers claimed you can wear underwater (scuba diving, snorkeling); but I did not go that deep but tried it while swimming. However, during my recent visit to Christian bookstore in the city, I came across a rare exhibit: The Waterproof Bible!

What is the Waterproof Bible for? For scuba-divers, swimmers, surfers, white water-rafters? Do they have enough time to read the bible while their mind is on their activities? Are they down there to read the Bible or to watch the corals and fish? The manufacturers doesn't have any suggestions regarding its possible uses. However, they suggest a catch-all use: it is safe to take it outdoor without the fear of being spoiled by water. I understand that, on a rainy Sunday morning, when you run from the car park to the church building you can even hold it over your head to protect you from rain. When you get to the church foyers just wipe it on your trousers. You can read it holding a cup of coffee in the other hand without the fear of the coffee spilling over it. The pages are printed on synthetic waterproof material, the manufacturer says on the cover.

Great idea! A bible for outdoors! Wait a second, is not what the Bible meant for?

The Bible has been a indoor book for centuries. The Jews venerated the Torah and followed the rabbinic traditions. They had it rolled up around gold-plated handles and kept inside jackets. It was taken out from the room where it was kept with great reverance and handed over to the reader very carefully on the Sabbath in the Synagogues. After the reading it was returned to its place again ceremonially with reverence. It was kept away from contact with anything that may make it unclean. Some Jewish sects took it once in a year on the festival of the Revelation of Torah. They took it out to the street in a procession, but still carefully covered and guarded.

That is what the Christian church did with the Bible as well. It was kept in door, away from the people for its message was intended. Until William Tyndale, Martin Luther and other reformers, the ordinary people never had a chance to see what the Bible look like. It belonged to the monasteries and church altars. It was in languages that common people did not understand.

However, the situation changed almost five hundred years ago. Tyndale put in the commoners tongue and he had to pay for it with his life. Martin Luther and many others did the same and the work goes on. The Bible is available now in all the major languages of the world.

Bible is for common use, Saint Paul had told Timothy long back. It should be read by everyone who can read and afford to have a copy or read to those who can't read or have access to it. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” (1 Tim 4:13 ESV).

What was public reading of the reading in the early centuries like?

It has to be taken out to street corners and coffee shops. I remember preaching in a street corners when I was hardly thirteen! That was part of the training elders of my Bible-loving church insisted that boys (growing up to serve the Lord) should have. They went preaching in the streets almost every Sunday. Then when I grew up I had a Soul Winners Bible, which helps one to lead a friend from Bible verses to another which talks about human depravity to salvation through Christ. Finally, comes the point when you lead the friend to Christ and you prayed the sinners prayer together. So we had to take the Bible to coffee shops, hostel rooms and any place where two people can sit together.

Carrying a copy of the Bible was a mark of an identity for the members of the Christian community that I grew up in. We clutched our Bible proudly as we walked to the Bus stop to catch the bus to church or Sunday School in view of the people in our neighborhood. It was a proud statement that I am a Bible-believing Christian. It meant a lot in a world where Christians who did not take Bible seriously abounded.

The Bible has gone through changes in is physical appearance in the process it has become more fit for the out-door. From the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were written to the leather scrolls was a big change. Then, from the rolled leather to bound papyrus sheets was another huge change. From there on to paper and then to the printed books and now on synthetic waterproof material. Somewhere in between it came on computer media: floppies, CD's and Online. Instead of public reading to communities gathered around in candle lights now we have dramatized audio-Bibles. It is not sheets of paper bound together but an app on our our mobiles and digital devices. It is now more portable, user-friendly (one doesn't have to know the order of the books to locate a passage), and the audio one makes us multi-tasking (listen to it while you drive or having a foam bath in the bathtub!).

It was expensive to buy a copy of the Torah scroll in the ancient days. Only the rich could afford it. Only rich monasteries could have a copy of the Bible. Having a copy of the printed Bible still an expensive affair for many Christian communities. However, some of us are so fortunate, We can have one in our bath, one in our car, one in our lap-top and another on our cell phone. We don't have to carry one to church also, it will be on the screen, scrolling to the exact verses the preacher refers to.

Does this mean that we are becoming too casual about the sacred scripture? Yes, it is a possibility. Is Bible now a product too personal. Just for me? It seems so. The reformers liberated the Word of God from the specialists and gave to the commoners so that they can hear the voice of God directly through its pages. That they may grow and share it with other and make others grow in the knowledge of God.

That's what the Bible is for and as long as that purpose is served, I don't care a bible that is not waterproof. However, a waterproof one is welcome.

The Bible stands though the hills may tumble,
It will firmly stand when the earth shall crumble;
I will plant my feet on its firm foundation,
For the Bible stands. —Lillenas.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Christian Faith as Allegiance

Christian spirituality has to do with a system of beliefs, so we tend to think. We often equate spirituality with beliefs and rituals. However, in the light of the Bible, spirituality is not something that you believe or do but something that you belong to. Let me put in another way, it is not belief but belonging.

What did Peter had to do when he left his father, the net and the boat when Jesus called him to follow him? He did not have to sit for a membership test. If he had, I am sure he would have failed! All that he had to do was to leave what he had (what belonged to him) and follow after Jesus. He was no more a man of the lake, he belonged to Jesus. Ask James, John and even Paul who came to the scene much later. They just changed their allegiance. They had to reorder their relationships and loyalties so that they belonged to Jesus.

"What shall do to be saved?" the terrified jailer of Philippi screamed at Paul and Silas? What did he mean by "being saved"? He might have Paul preaching about Jesus who is the savior of the world. He was an employee of the Roman empire and by law accepted the fact that Caesar is Lord or divine. As a Roman citizen his allegiance was to the Caesar. Paul's answer was not to believe in a system of doctrines, but "believe on the Lord Jesus". It is to accept the Lordship of Jesus which demands that he denounce the Lordship of Caesar over him.

All that the Apostle demanded from their audience was confession of sins and confessing that Jesus is Lord. They did so in absolute obedience that the Lord had given them: to make disciples. The apostolic ministry in the first century was to make followers of Jesus and not believers of Jesus.

However, this change of allegiance, like any allegiance is not devoid of a set of beliefs. They had to believe that God has sent Jesus to this world, they had to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. They had to accept the fact that all humanity are sinful and needed a savior and that savior is Jesus of Nazareth who is God. However, it is the order that matters. Their faith is primarily an allegiance to Jesus and what they had to believe was to make that allegiance and to foster it in the days to come. Belief was at the service of this allegiance and not a substitute to it.

Jesus always thought in terms of relationship; that is why he called those who put their trust in him "my sheep" and his disciples "friends".


Have we not reduced Christianity to a set of beliefs and have lost this dimension of our relationship with Jesus. When we imagine Christian spirituality in terms of beliefs only we don't regret about the unholy alliances that we have made with the world and its sinful system.However, Jesus demands our absolute loyalty. 

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