I was about eight years old.
The ceilings were high, vaulted and painted brilliant white; white like the entire room, save for the stark, blood-red carpet and the rainbow of people seated in its pews. It was a Sunday morning, and I sat with my mom and brothers on the far right side, by the stained-glass windows.
The preacher spoke about Jesus like my mom always did, like He was significant, like He was the most important thing ever. Something about it always rang truer inside me than they knew. As sincerely as anyone said His Name, they had no idea how deeply I already knew it, like it was timeless. Like I was timeless.
Finally, an invitation came to respond. “Mom, should I go?” I asked.
“What do you feel in your heart, son?” she whispered, watching me intently, then looking up to the front, then back to me.
“I feel like I’m supposed to go,” I said. And with a nod, she let me out of the pew. I walked toward the preacher, moving slowly down the red aisle in front of me. Moving forward. Moving toward God. Moving, to say “yes” to Jesus in whatever way I could. Forward. One child-sized foot in front of the other. The weight of it all bubbling inside of me. That was the day I believed in Jesus.
I love my Mom so much for teaching me to listen to my heart.
Fast-forward a quarter century. I’m the father of the sweetest toddler, named Ephraim, a one-year-old cutie name Eden, and my wife is pregnant with our third child. I’m the Worship & Youth Pastor of a small church in the suburbs of Chicago. I have a Bachelor’s degree in music and I minored in Bible. I’ve served whatever local church I was called to like it was my job, and now it is! I’ve had my most significant wounds given to me by the church, and yet I’ve also experienced my most profound healing in Her outstretched arms. I have never stopped believing upon Jesus since that day.
So, let me say: I hold a very high view of Scripture.
I believe the entire Canon of Scripture is authoritative for faith; it informs and shapes my view of life, humanity, God, love, good, evil, etc. etc. But why? Why do I believe the Bible? And, my question to you, brother or sister: Why do you believe the Bible?
I have tried answering that question before. You likely have as well. Were you sweaty-palmed and red-cheeked, as I was? Defensively trying to convince someone –with absolute certainty!– the Bible is trustworthy? If we were honest with ourselves, we gave it all we had and still felt we had done it inadequately. It’s the Bible, and it’s our faith, so yeah, we want to get this one right.
Spotlight is on. The microphone squeals… what do you say? “Errr…..umm…” (Loud booing)
Like me, you’ve probably gone back to do your homework. “Not letting that happen again,” we tell ourselves as we bust out a Lee Strobel book, and join the next small group titled, “How to Defend the Bible from Those Nay-Sayers!” If anything like this resonates with you, take heart: Very few have answered the question of Scriptures’ claim to Truth very well. But I believe, many times, we don’t fare well because we don’t honestly answer why we believe the Bible.
Now, perhaps you’re thinking, “Hold on a minute, Samuel! I’ve studied some apologetic and there’s all this historical, empirical data that shows Scripture recorded history rightly! And, Jesus fulfills a bunch of prophecies of the Old Testament, so Scripture is reliable and true. THAT’s why I believe!”
I hear you, friend, and I think there’s a place for all of that apologetic. It’s the reason I’ve listened to countless William Lane Craig debates, Ravi Zacharias lectures and podcasts. It’s why I’ve studied about the fine-tuning of the universe, and read numerous books on philosophy, science, theology, world religions, etc. But here’s why answering that question with pop-quiz apologetic facts (that we studied the night before because we knew we were going to talk to an atheist) is disingenuous: Because it’s not honestly why you or I believe the Bible.
What makes it disingenuous is that I believed the Bible before I ever knew a single apologetic trick of the trade, before I ever read Lee Strobel, or studied the timeline of Scripture and compared it to secular historical accounts. Nope, remember I was just a freckled boy sitting in a pew that swallowed me, in a church with vivid, plush 70’s carpet. And it’s highly unlikely that you, or your fellow Christian, has read all the books of apocrypha, nor knows why exactly those books were excluded from the Canon and say..the book of Esther.. was not, for instance.
Some great news, though: You don’t have to! Because again it isn’t likely why you really believe the Bible! It is neither why the majority of us who profess Jesus as risen from the dead first believed nor continue to do so. Yes, of course the resurrection account of the person of Jesus of Nazareth is attested to by many highly-scrutinized, credible, historical documents and sources, but it isn’t primarily, nor first and foremost, why I believed in the resurrection of Jesus. I came to know Jesus because I had a personal, subjective experience with Him by His Spirit when I was just a little ruddy boy.
Maybe you went with a friend to church service once just to humor him. Or maybe you had someone pour into your life, and the more they did, the more you heard about this “Jesus” person. Or maybe you grew up going to Catholic school, and learned about Jesus’ life and testimony from teachers and other Christians. Haven’t you heard something like this: “You have to have a personal relationship with Jesus?” Why then, when faced with skepticism do we argue by any other reason? Ah! Because, as I said, it’s subjective, and we’re taught that subjective, personal experiences are not valuable or reliable.
But hold on. My personal experience with the risen Prince of Peace was not “solo scriptura” and without witness, but precisely because of that great body of witnesses, His Bride, the Church!
She told me of Him. Her wounds spoke of a love affair too raw to be unreal. She walked with a limp from wrestling Him in the night, when He gave Her a new Name –His Name! He set a seal upon Her arm, and she smelled like His house, His cologne, His after shave. Something was alluringly beautiful about her, something more beautiful than looks and charm. She had steely eyes that pierced me when she would smile, and sing about Her Jesus. My whole world would get wrapped up in that kind of magnetism and gravity, every time. She walked up to strangers and wrapped them with warmth and dignity. She found broken and oppressed people and called them “holy.” Something about Her seemed so like Him that they seemed inseparable. Interwoven. Knit. A timeless love.
“My Jesus” was not mine alone, but instead a whole Community of people, from generation to generation, remained faithful to the witness of Him. As they did, they became the very fullness of Him present in my world today. She was His reflection and presence, regardless of the years and ages past. My leap of faith was a leap off Her shoulders. My faith made possible only by a people of faith and faithfulness to that testimony of His love. And it was these people, spanning the horizon, and the centuries, that handed me a book, a sacred and holy book – the Bible.
It is because I believe in Jesus that I look upon His Church and believe in Her! And it’s because she has been faithful to His witness that I trust the book she reads. I believe the Bible because I believe the Church, because I believe Jesus.
This is why Christians believe the Bible, whether they realize it or not. The authority of Scripture is not solo. It is based on the Church’s authority to witness to it, the Church has authority because She is based on the authority of Christ.
There’s such GOOD that can come from Christians receiving this faith that has been handed down to them, and leaning on their Church as a witness, because it means when someone asks you to do all that intellectual, empirical stuff, you can point them to the Church’s greatest thinkers like C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, William Lane Craig or N.T. Wright! When atheist antagonists want to go toe-to-toe, instead of standing alone, you can with integrity say, “Sorry, I believe the Church, not you! She has great thinkers and writers – argue with them!”
The Enlightenment period did some really sketchy stuff to us, teaching us – each one of us – to stand defenseless and alone, a measure of our ourselves, unto ourselves. This is the difficulty any Christian faces if they stand alone, because hero-solo-warriors-of-the-Cross weren’t blessed by the promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against them. That’s a promise reserved for His Church!
Dear one: You need Jesus, and He is present in the Church that told you about Him, and you need the book She reads.
That’s how it works: