ARISE TO LIVE WITH GOD
BY L. DEANE LAGERQUIST
Preparing to travel across an ocean and half a continent, many 19th century Lutheran immigrants to the United States made room in their luggage for a Bible. Almost as many also packed Johann Arndt's True Christianity.
In that influential work Arndt wrote, "God did not reveal the Holy Scriptures so that they might externally on paper remain a dead letter, but that they might become living in us in spirit and faith and that a completely new inner person might arise."
Arndt emphasized that "getting the gospel" is not merely a matter of knowledge. It involves renewal of the believer's life. Studying the Bible, hearing it read and preached, and singing its words are merely beginnings.
Without the animation of the Spirit, the words on the page remain dead letters. But when the Spirit fills the acts of reading, hearing, singing and studying with faith--those habits bear spiritual fruit.
German Lutherans influenced by Arndt and led by Pastor Philipp Spener gathered regularly in the late 1600s to pray together, encourage one another to grow in grace and to read the Bible. At the University of Halle [Germany], Spener and his colleagues operated an orphanage, several schools and a press.
This pietist movement grew and spread from Germany through missionaries' work, publishing and social ministry. Hymn writer Paul Gerhardt put pietist themes to music. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the patriarch of American Lutheranism, was one of several colonial pastors formed by German pietism.
Lay preacher Hans Nielsen Hauge traveled the length of Norway encouraging spiritual awakening and moral behavior. In certain areas of Scandinavia, pietists' insistence upon reading the Bible for themselves led to their being called "Readers." In some places, small group meetings to read and pray were prohibited by law. Hauge spent several years in jail for violating these regulations.
From the pietist movement, Lutherans have an example of the value of reading the Bible in private as well as in public, for personal as well as corporate benefits. Small groups join together to read the Bible asking what God's message is for them today. Individuals also turn to Scripture expecting to find Jesus there, cradled in human language as ordinary as the wooden manger where Mary laid him.
The image of the Bible as the Christ-child's manger is Martin Luther's. It reminds us that the words on the page are only so many marks until the Spirit gives us faith. We expect to meet God when reading the Bible, but we do not replace God with the book. Rather, we use all the tools we have to understand the words of the book so that we are prepared to receive the Child.
Among the resources we have to help us follow the example of the pietists are daily devotional books and lectionary readings. Various authors and publishers provide a wealth of volumes following a similar format--a biblical passage, a brief meditation on the passage and a related prayer are provided for each day.
Amid full and busy lives, many 20th century Lutherans make room in their days to use one of these devotional books. Used by tens of thousands, God's Word for Today by O. Hallesby leads the reader through an entire year and can be used year after year. The popular series Christ in Our Home, as well as The Word in Season and The Home Altar (the latter for parents and children), appear for quarterly replacement from Augsburg Fortress.
As public worship is guided in its reading of the Bible by a lectionary, so, too, each Christian may follow a series of appointed readings. The Lutheran Book of Worship (page 179) offers a two-year cycle of three daily readings. Some prefer to read the Bible a chapter at a time. The particular schedule is less important than the discipline of regular, prayerful encounter with Scripture. The LBW also provides a scheme for including a psalm text in daily devotion (page 178).
Together or alone, in worship, study or devotion--when the Spirit illumines our reading of the Bible its words come to life, we meet God and a new person arises.
reprinted with the kind permission of the folks at The Lutheran magazine