President Trump has been criticized this week for his photo op when he walked from the White House to the historical St. John’s Church that had been set on fire by some protestors and was photographed waving a Bible.
There are conflicting news reports whether the President ordered peaceful protestors cleared from the area to walk to St John’s. Or if Attorney General William Barr had already ordered the protestors to be moved back a block for safety.
Regardless, the timing and the optics did not set well with many politicians and religious leaders including the Bishop of St. John’s who said, “I am outraged.”
James Martin, a prominent Jesuit priest and author, said in a statement, “This is revolting. The Bible is not a prop. A church is not a photo op. Religion is not a political tool. And God is not a plaything.”
Of course, waving a Bible is nothing new for politicians of both parties. In fact, speaker Nancy Pelosi responded in a news conference, criticizing the President, while holding up a Bible and reading from Ecclesiastes 3.
The point of this post, however, is not political. It’s spiritual. This incident is illustrative of an important principle. And needed application.
Some wave the Bible to emphasize love, while ignoring clear commandments given by both Jesus and His apostles. They repeatedly refer to the two great commandments to love God and love your neighbor, as if there are no other Divine decrees. Yet, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (Jn. 14:15).
In discussions regarding law and grace, some seem to emphasize grace to the exclusion of law. While others almost squeeze God’s grace from the Bible, while stressing strict obedience (Rom. 6:1-15; Eph. 2:1-10; Gal. 6:2).
Are we saved by works? Or saved by faith? People cherry pick passages and wave the Bible to prove their position. Yet, a balanced view of Scripture demonstrates that both are essential in salvation. (Rom. 4; James 2:14-26).
Sadly, however, the Bible has been waved in the past by conservatives justifying racism, slavery, and prejudicial attitudes and behavior. Too often Bible believers ignore commands to help the poor and needy and to minister “to the least of these” (Matt 25:31-36).
Various religious groups wave the Bible citing commands from the Law of Moses to defend their doctrines, although the New Testament clearly teaches that we’re not under the Levitical law (Col 2:14-15; Heb. 9:11-22).
By contrast, some want to ignore studying the Old Testament, arguing that since we’re not bound by it, why study it. Yet, they fail to understand that we learn modern day lessons and principles from its narratives (Rom. 15:4).
Sometimes, passages are taken out of context to prove a point or chide someone with whom we disagree. One of the most often abused passages is “Judge not that you be not judged” (Matt 7:1). Some wave that passage in the face of preachers who would dare to condemn sin. Yet, Jesus, in that text is not prohibiting righteous judgement (Jn 7:24).
The Psalmist reminds us of a principle that needs to be applied when we’re tempted to wave the Bible to rationalize our position. “The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever” (Ps. 119:160).
Preachers may be guilty of waving the Bible during their sermons with an accurate Gospel message, yet fail to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:16) to their listeners.
Pastors may accusingly wave the Bible in front of their congregations to impose some personal opinion, “lording over the flock,” all the while failing to lead by example (I Pet. 5:1-4).
Parents may arbitrarily wave the Bible before their children to keep them in line, yet fall short of their parental responsibility to nurture, train and truly discipline them in the way of the Lord (Eph 6:4).
Politicians, both Republican and Democrat, will continue to wave the Bible for partisan purposes, even if they rarely read it, know little of its contents, and refuse to live by it.
All of this reminds me of a story told by the American Humorist, Mark Twain. Supposedly he once overheard a prominent and wealthy businessman, known for his ruthless behavior, brag, “Before I die I’m making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Then I’m going to Mt. Sinai, climb to top and read the Ten Commandments.”
“I have a better idea,” Twain quipped, “Why don’t you just stay home and keep them!”
Let’s not make the mistake of just waving the Bible, while ignoring its commands, disrespecting its author, and living contrary to its guidance.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman