While the leaders of the Episcopal Church-USA spent the past year redefining marriage and suing their own local parishes, a surprising thing has begun to happen under the radar in that troubled denomination. I know because I've seen it.
What's happening is that a Bible reading revival is beginning at the grassroots level. It's not widespread, and it certainly is not being promoted by the denominational hierarchy. But it's starting to spread and it offers what I believe is the best hope for the reformation of the Western Church.
I saw a wonderful example of it at Church of the Holy Comforter in Sumter, SC, where I preached and spoke several times this past weekend. Last year the congregation completed a program called The Essential 100 Challenge, a 20-week overview of the Bible. Now they are in the middle of The Essential Jesus Challenge, a 20-week journey through God's plan of salvation from Genesis to Revelation. Holy Comforter is just one of over 1,000 US churches who have completed these Scripture Union programs.
But the key to what's happening at Holy Comforter is not a program. Rather, it's the commitment of the Rector, The Rev. Dr. John Barr (pictured with me above) to leading his people into a regular pattern of Bible reading. In fact, that's one of his church's core values.
What Father John has done using the Essential programs is encourage his people to read 5 Bible passages each week. He then reinforces it by preaching on one of the 5 passages the following Sunday, and integrating the passages into the network of small groups throughout the church. The key is that a good percentage of the congregation is reading the same passages of the Bible...together. "That simple formula," says Father John, "has made a big difference in this church." It's a real-life example of community-based Bible reading (a concept I've described in an earlier post on this blog).
I know it's just one example. But I believe it offers a picture of how renewal will come to the Episcopal Church-USA (my own denomination) and to any other denomination that is losing its grip on the authority of Scripture. Instead of just paying lawyers to argue about procedures and property, we also need to fan the flame of Bible reading revival in the pews. Because once that gets ignited, and begins to spread, there's no procedural vote or court decision that will be able to stop it.