Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you? (W-4.0404b.)
“It’s time to order Bibles for third graders,” my assistant said, dropping the catalog on my desk. “I know it takes you a while to pick them.”
She wasn’t wrong. For as long as I’ve been in ministry, one of my favorite — and most challenging — tasks has been giving Bibles to children. Usually with proud adults looking on. Usually after a series of interactive classes to teach “Bible skills.” Usually with the child’s name on the front. That means ordering in time for embossing. This is my Bible-shopping interior monologue:
- Which translation? It needs to be authoritative, theologically compatible with our denomination, and readable. Extra points if the congregation uses the same translation in worship.
- Which version of that translation? The Gift Bible? Hardcover or softcover? The children’s version? The teen or adult study version? Which is most appealing to third graders?
- Are there child-friendly graphics, notes, or pictures that help explain things? Are they too childish? Do they square with our theology? If there are pictures, are they diverse in their representation?
- Which Bible will be inviting enough to make them open and read it now? Which will they keep reading in years to come, if this is the only Bible they take into young adulthood?
- What’s the cost? Shipping time? Oh, and can we get the names on them?
A complicated matrix. One year the only version that checked all my boxes was out of print. I ordered from four different places online and drove across the state line to pick some up. My assistant almost quit that year. I suppose I could worry less about some of those bullet points, but then there is this question about Scripture that I answered at my ordination. I said yes to it, and I want the children in my churches to be able to say yes to it as well. That’s worth taking some time to consider.
My Bible skills classes with children have evolved. In early years, I taught mostly informational content: The Bible is a library of books. Old Testament, New Testament, let’s learn the books in order. What’s the Pentateuch? Wisdom Literature? Gospels? Epistles? How do you look up a verse?
In more recent classes, I share my own childhood Bible, complete with red crayon underlining, and talk about what the Bible has meant to me over time. I invite other church members to show their Bibles and talk about them. We learn how the Bible came to be —the remarkable evolution of God’s shared Word, from oral tradition to papyrus to the printing press and varied translations, with lively conversation about choosing the canon. We learn that the written revelation of God wasn’t dropped down from heaven but inspired by God’s Spirit in many ways, through many people, over many years. It continues to be translated, read, and interpreted today, even by third graders.
The Bible skill I most want them (and you) to develop is a voice in the ongoing sacred conversation between God and the people of God: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33b).
In his book "Christian Doctrine," Shirley Guthrie noted that an oft-asked question is “Do you believe in the Bible?” That’s not what this ordination question asks. We don’t believe in the Bible. We believe in God, whose Word to us is revealed by the gift of the Holy Spirit, in and through the Scriptures, seen most clearly through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I want third graders — and officers in the church — to thoughtfully answer the question “Do you believe in the Bible?” like Guthrie did, saying, “No … Our faith is not in the book but in the God we learn to know in it.”
That’s what it means to say “Yes” to this question: Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
- What Bibles have you used in your lifetime? How has your understanding of what the Bible is all about grown and changed over time?
- What have you learned about God from Scripture? What “Bible skills” do you think are most important for children? For youth? For adults?
- How do the materials in "Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons Based on the Constitutional Questions" deepen your understanding of this question?
Rev. Julie Coffman Hester is a pastor and writer in the Presbytery of Western North Carolina. She is inspired by faithful ruling elders, like her parents, and the remarkable disciples with whom she has served in local congregations.
This article is the third in a 12-part series focusing on the constitutional questions that church leaders answer upon their ordination and installation, using some of the materials from "Coming Alive in Christ: Training for PC(USA) Ruling Elders and Deacons Based on the Constitutional Questions," which is available through Equip, the church’s online training platform.