In my faith tradition, many churches still practice what is called “family visiting.” Over a period of a year or two, the pastor of the church and those serving as elders try to meet with everyone who calls themselves a member of the congregation. (Some of the Dutch phrases of my ancestors remain. People will say that they have “huis bezoek” (house visit) this week.)
The purpose of this visit is for encouragement, even though sometimes it can come off as feeling a little like an examination or interview. Families are encouraged talk about life with its joys and stresses. A passage from Scripture is read, and maybe there is some discussion that comes from some questions that were prepared from the text. Depending on the circumstances, family visiting sometimes looks like a Bible study, other times a crisis intervention, or, unfortunately, the complaint desk.
Recently, the topic at my church has been about reading the Bible. The theme text is familiar to many: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, NIV).
We’ve been encouraged to think about texts that have been meaningful to us. One question we’ve been asked is, “How has Scripture shaped or changed your life?
Most people are happy to talk about their kids’ activities or register their concerns about something that they think the church should either stop or start doing. But ask them about how Scripture has changed them? That’s a tough one.
It shouldn’t have to be.
We might speak about the devotional time that we may or may not have had during the week, or the sermon series the pastor has been working through recently, but we’re often not very good about recognizing or speaking about the connections we’ve made with Scripture and life.
Article 7 of the Belgic Confession speaks about the sufficiency of Scripture. The first few sentences say, “We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it.”
We can believe this, but it doesn’t mean that reading Scripture is always easy. People can read the Bible and clearly and easily see that Jesus Christ, the son of God, forgives and saves sinners, even the worst of them, to paraphrase Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:15.
The Bible speaks so clearly about Jesus, but for other things, answers do not come as easy.
Eugene Peterson explains it well when he explains, “We are fond of saying that the Bible has all the answers. And that is certainly correct. The text of the Bible sets us in a reality that is congruent with who we are as created beings in God’s image and what we are destined for in the purposes of Christ. But the Bible also has all the questions, many of them that we would just as soon were never asked of us, and some of which we will spend the rest of our lives doing our best to dodge. The Bible is a most comforting book; it is also a most discomfiting book.”1
As with anything, just because something is hard or difficult doesn’t mean that we should stop doing it. In fact, sometimes we need to keep on doing the hard or difficult things because it helps us grow. There are times, though, when we face the realization that we can’t do something without help.
The same thing goes with Scripture. By ourselves, there is much we can understand and know about God and salvation. When we come across the hard texts or the places in life where it seems that Scripture is silent, we can be thankful for community. We don’t have to figure this all out alone. There are others who have gone on before us or walk beside us who may have insight that we do not have ourselves. We learn from them as well.
Community is a protection for us as well. In community, we can more clearly understand together what the Bible means for all of us, rather than simply what the Bible means only for me.
As much as we should spend time individually reading, learning, wrestling, and growing in Scripture, we should remember this: We read in community. We hear in community. We learn in community. It is in community that we can continue to be shaped and formed by God’s Word.
I don’t know how many churches continue to do family visiting. For some it seems anachronistic, an antique of a practice. Sitting across a table with someone and talking about how a favorite verse of the Bible has shaped and changed our life is extremely personal, but can be so rewarding. When we share Scripture and when we talk about it together, we open ourselves to telling our stories and hearing other’s stories. In doing so, we can more easily see the part that we are playing in the greater Story of God.
from Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading ↩