Editor’s note: How many people in your congregation read the Bible regularly? What about your denomination? You might be surprised at the low ratio. “Follow the Bible” is an initiative launched by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but we believe that all denominations would benefit by designing their own programs to encourage greater reading of the Word of God.
The editors of Ministry interviewed three leaders of the world church of Seventh-day Adventists: Jan Paulsen, president; Matthew Bediako, secretary; and Mark Finley, one of the vice-presidents.
Nikolaus Satelmajer (NS): What is the purpose of the Follow the Bible project?
Jan Paulsen (JP): We have been known historically, and we’ve described ourselves as the “people of the Book,” suggesting that the values we hold, the things we believe, and the impetus to our mission is all based and rooted in Scripture.
We have always encouraged our people to stay close to the Book, to read it. Yet the sad fact is that far too many of our people spend little or no time reading the Bible. They limit their spiritual nurture as far as the actual reading of the Word of God is concerned to what is being served when they attend a meeting—what is being read to them in church. They don’t spend time themselves in the Bible—or very, very little time studying the Scriptures. This is what drives the project. Follow the Bible is to lift up the Bible as the Word of God, to highlight its relevance as being a message that addresses all people, all cultures, all times, and to encourage our people to spend quality time with the Bible.
Willie Hucks (WH): Do you believe it will increase readership of the Bible among our church members? If so, how?
Mark Finley (MF): I’ll give you a little background on how Follow the Bible started. A group of us began to think and pray about what we could do to stimulate Bible reading among Seventh-day Adventist members. As we talked and prayed about it, we took a look at some of the data that was coming in that Dr. Paulsen referred to, indicating that Bible reading—although it has been a top priority for Seventh-day Adventists through the years—was beginning to come to the point in some minds where the Bible was not predominant, and some of them weren’t studying the Bible as they had in past years. So we wondered if we could come up with an idea—if we could do something symbolic—that people could rally around. So the idea of the traveling Bible came up. We would produce a Bible in sixty-six languages. Each book of the Bible is in a different language—probably unique in the history of Christianity. If we could bring that Bible to key centers with thousands of people coming to major congregations or rallies, we could stimulate Bible reading. That will happen really in three ways. It’ll happen at convocations where people will come by the thousands as this traveling Bible travels around the world—probably the most traveled Bible in the world. As these thousands come, sermons will be preached from the Bible, and people will be encouraged to read the Bible.
Secondly, as they come to each rally, they will be given a Bible-reading guide. It is unique in two ways. You can start any place. For example, let’s say that the rally is in January, you can start in January and read from January to January. If you come to the rally in March, you can start in March and read from March to March. We think that as Ministry, other periodicals, Hope Channel, and all of the media outlets focus specifically on this Bible-reading project, members will be thrilled to read the Bible with millions of others. They will be stimulated at the convocations where they will receive this Bible-reading guide.
Thirdly, there’s a Web site: www.Follow theBibleSDA.com, and anybody can log in to the Web site any place in the world, and they can join in this odyssey of the traveling Bible, and they can begin reading the Bible as well. So, we think it’s going to renew a spirit in pastors to preach on the Bible. We think the pastors will encourage people to participate and log on to the Web site. We can see pastors all over the world busing people into these large rallies. So we think that this will stimulate Bible reading among hundreds of thousands.
Matthew Bediako (MB): I believe that it is going to arouse interest in Bible reading. As I was growing up, we were known as people who really loved to read and know our Bible. It is not so now. Fewer members are spending time reading the Bible and praying. So, this will arouse the interest of more people to begin to read and pray often.
NS: Ministry goes to thousands of ministers.
What specifically do you envision they can do? What is it that they would be able to do with this project?
MF: There are a number of things that they could do. We will prepare three sermons and post them on the Web site so that pastors can download, take those sermons to use as a base, and modify them to preach on the Word of God. We think that pastors will be able to encourage their people as well to be part of this Bible-reading plan.
Pastors could also publish the Web site address in their church bulletins.
So, pastors will be able, in a variety of ways, to participate in the Follow the Bible project. I think one of the amazing things about it is that it’s not limited to any geographic area. The Bible is a universal Book; the Bible is going to pass through each part of the world.
I really encourage pastors, when they hear that the Bible is going to be at a certain place in their area, to make these convocations and rallies a special event and use it as a springboard to stimulate Bible reading among their members.
JP: I think every minister, whatever the denomination, will want the Word of God to be central.
MF: The title is unique: “Follow the Bible.” It’s easily translatable, you’re following the Bible with your eyes as it goes around the world, but you’re also following the Bible through a daily reading plan.
WH: What will happen regarding Follow the Bible at the 2010 General Conference (GC) Session1 to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, United States?
JP: A few months ago, the world completed the Olympic Games in China where the Olympic flame traveled the world and finally arrived at its goal. In a sense, the Bible is the spiritual flame that we lift up as a church. It is making the journey around the world, appealing to people everywhere to follow it. We lift it up, and I think it is a wonderful point that it should be the focus of arrival at the General Conference session. The General Conference session is a unique gathering of God’s people of Seventh-day Adventist believers around the world. It will deal with issues that may seem very businesslike and some of it is that. Yet, we are a spiritual community first and foremost. We are mission driven first and foremost—that is our agenda.
Everything that we are, that we want to accomplish for God is spelled out in the Word of God. So I think it is the most suitable, fitting thing that the GC session should open with our spiritual torch arriving, being delivered there, symbolically telling the people around the world that not only is it a spiritual community gathered here, but that which holds us together as a people is the Word of God. So, I see this as a symbolic act as well as just underscoring the study of the Bible.
NS: What do you all see beyond the GC session? Hopefully it isn’t just “Here it is in Atlanta, we brought the torch.” What do you envision after that?
MF: The General Conference session really connects the previous five years and launches the next five years. We would like to see that as the Bible is brought into the GC session, like the Olympic torch as Dr. Paulsen mentioned, and millions of Seventh-day Adventists have been following the Bible, that the General Conference session itself give emphasis to the Word of God, the very foundation of our faith, and this be a stimulus for our people beyond the GC session in reading and studying the Bible.
JP: There is another face of this which is fortuitous, but points to the same thing.
At this particular General Conference session, we are focusing on the life of the church pastor: the challenges, the fulfillment, the tasks, the assignment of the local church pastor, the one given the responsibility to specifically nurture and feed the flock. Where do pastors go to find what they need? They go to the Bible. So I see the linkage between highlighting the ministry of pastors to their congregations and the source to which they go.
WH: What is your long-term hope for this initiative?
MB: I hope that after the Bible has passed through a region, then that area will have a strategy whereby every church and every institution will put in place paths to encourage more people to read the Bible. I can see the possibilities.
For instance, one time in the Inter-American Division2 they had young people writing their favorite verses of the Bible on a sheet and it became a long sheet. They made a big publicity event of it—garnering a lot of interest. I hope this will help us encourage our young people to really begin to study the Bible.
MF: In one region, studies indicate that approximately forty-nine percent of Seventh-day Adventists do not have a devotional life in reading God’s Word.
Now, one can question any study and we recognize that; but let’s assume that it’s ten or fifteen percentage points higher than that if you look at the whole world.
Whatever the number is, our long-term goal is to raise it significantly. The focus of the initiative is not a big event. The big event, the large convocations and rallies, are to stimulate families to read the Bible. Our long-term initiative is to encourage members to read the Bible.
To encourage fathers and mothers to read the Bible to their children. To encourage our college students to get actively involved in Bible reading and devotional life in their dormitories. To encourage lay people to investigate again the great teachings of Scripture and to be stimulated again by the Gospels and by Jesus. Here’s a statement that tells us how important Bible reading is, “None but those who have fortified the mind with the truths of the Bible will stand through the last great conflict.”3 Another statement tells us that “If God’s word were studied as it should be, [there would be] a breadth of mind, a nobility of character . . . rarely seen in these times.”4 So, our goal is to help prepare our members for the coming of Jesus through their deep, serious Bible study that transforms their lives. That the same Spirit that inspired the Bible transforms people as they read it. Our goal is to help our members in this entire initiative find strength of character and renew their relationship with Jesus.
NS: Any major program has to be started and emphasized for a period of months, and years sometimes. What have you heard so far throughout the world?
JP: We have presented it at Annual Council and Spring Council5 to leadership from around the world. They received the idea enthusiastically. They saw instantly the spiritual impetus that this could communicate. All of us who are involved in leadership roles in the church, whether it be here from the world headquarters or from our regional headquarters around the world, have no other wish than to see our people become stronger and rooted in Scripture and be better able to share the values they hold to from Scripture.
So, anything that can help to make this better, stronger, and more effective, they support. When we presented it to our executive committee, they demonstrated huge enthusiasm for this.
It’s making its journey.
MF: Church leaders from throughout the world have really resonated with this idea. In one area of the world, the church leaders’ plans are being made so that various church units will participate in the traveling Bible event.
NS: Whenever the Bible has been the focal point in the past in Christianity, it always has brought positive change. The Reformation always started with the Word of God, whether it was Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Miller; whoever, it’s always been there.
MF: In the early Adventist movement, it has been the proclamation of God’s Word. God’s Word has provided that basis.
JP: If you look at our own church, particularly our own beginning—and I don’t mean just the one hundred fifty years in North America. I mean when our message came to northern Norway—my parents were baptized in the first wave of strong Adventism. People have strong convictions. The preaching from the Bible, the reading of the Bible lent itself to having very, very strong convictions about the values found in Scripture.
It wasn’t just a bland general spiritual feeling; they were strongly held values and convictions. Studying the Bible has been a part of our heritage.
1 It is the international gathering of Seventh-day Adventists that takes place every five years.
2 Church organizational unit for the Caribbean and the countries between North and South America.
3 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1950), 593, 594.
4 White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1956), 90.
5 These are major meetings of world leaders and representatives of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.