Justin Skolnick lives and works in Portland.

A Bible-Believing Church

Originally posted to justin.revision8.com on in Barrington, Illinois

1. No one can understand Vergil’s Bucolics unless he has been a shepherd for five years. No one can understand Vergil’s Georgics, unless he has been a farmer for five years.

2. No one can understand Cicero’s Letters (or so I teach), unless he has busied himself in the affairs of some prominent state for twenty years.

3. Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Writers sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years with the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles.

Do not assail this divine Aeneid; nay, rather prostrate revere the ground that it treads.

We are beggars: this is true.

· · ·

What does it mean that a church is “Bible-believing”? One believes or doubts what one is told, and the scriptural texts say much. “Bible-believing” ostensibly announces that the Bible has been read and its content is believed and held as normative for faith and life. I know no major American churchProtestant, Orthodox, or Catholicfor which this is not true in some real and vital sense. It seems to go without saying that a Christian church would take Christian scripture as the basis of its ministry.

Why then would any church feel compelled to tack the phrase to its marquee? This past week in Woodstock I’ve seen it twice: The Free Methodists on Seminary Avenue are “Bible-believing” and Christ Life Church on Jackson is “A Spirit-Filled, Bible Believing Church.” Why waste the letters on something self-evident?

Like many Americans of my generation, I sense when someone’s trying to sell me something. Though I am not a shepherd or a farmer; though I lack significant experience with the affairs of a “prominent state”; and though I willingly admit my less-than-perfect grasp on the Bible and Christian history — which is no great wonder at age 24 — I am in fact conversant with commercial advertising and marketing. The logo on my coffee mug confirms almost one year paid experience, and my portfolio testifies to another four. I’ve learned to recognize a sales pitch.

The marketplace is no more fierce than in the trade of religious faith, where the stakes supercede mere economic survival. Our most active philanthropists compete for the salvation of the everlasting soul. Why not shudder when we learn a church has hired a marketing director? Because the fine line between marketing and evangelism has been erased. We are capitalists before we are Christians.

The dual task of the contemporary American church is to make the message attractive to consumers and to trounce the competition, in God’s name. In this respect, a church that aggressively proclaims to the commuting public its Bible-belief sends two messages. First, its members judge the content of the Bible trustworthy, and by extension, subscribe to its Truth and Value(s). Second, others don’t. Therefore, they assert, we are real Christians and you should join us in salvation, because you won’t get it elsewhere.

Do you smell the burgers on the grill when you drive past at lunchtime? or hear the voice say, “This weekend only”? Have you ever requested a price-match? or returned an item you found cheaper elsewhere?

“Bible-believing” on a church marqee is unadulterated posturing — a clear and exclusive claim to possession of absolute Truth and divine blessing. Explicit and provocative publication of what is evident is more than affirmation. It’s a charge against brethren: If you read the Bible, you read it wrong; our Communion is closed. These are fighting words.

As long as faith is subject to the market’s craft, I cling to this truth: “We are beggars: this is true.”