We filter Scripture, every piece. We even hand pick what we read. That is why many churches use lectionaries. These filters are necessary: The Bible has 35,000 verses in it; we can’t equally value every verse if we want to understand the enormity that is this book. Without filters we end up spending all our time pondering the begats and never get to the Beatitudes.
Jesus even gives us the filter: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NIV).
Filters help us understand the story of God that we find in the Bible. Churches teach filters all the time. We say things like: “This section is very important,” which implies that we don’t need to worry too much about that other section.
While filters are helpful and even necessary, they can create problems. One such problem is that our ways are not God’s ways. Our filters can miss the point. We can read Galatians looking for the rules Paul tries to lay out for community, but in truth Galatians is a letter Paul wrote to a church that was spending too much time worrying about the rules.
Filters are even more dangerous when we don’t acknowledge or admit that we are using them. Many people you talk to will claim they don’t use a filter when they read the Bible, but if we are honest, we all use filters every time we pick up the Scriptures.
Things we are passionate about or worried about or afraid of shape which verses are important and which aren’t. These concerns shape which books and verses we read all the time and which ones we pass over. If we are honest, most people have managed to never even open their Bibles to at least a few of its 66 books. These filters cause problems because many of them do more to protect us from God and insulated us from the parts of Scripture that make us uncomfortable than they help us learn about God’s desires for us.
There are several common filters used in churches across the country in many different churches (Mennonite and otherwise) that should be abandoned immediately. These filters actually get in the way of hearing about the character of God. They are based more on our fears and our desire for comfort than on an honest desire to be disciples of Jesus.
We must recognize the following filters and abandon them immediately so that God may speak more deeply into our lives and we can hear the challenging and life-changing message in the Bible. These are the three filters that are the most common and/or most distracting from the gospel of Jesus shared in our Scripture:
Here are a few filters we should try on:
All these filters are human creations—the ones I’m rejecting and the ones I’m recommending. We always read using a filter, whether we realize it or not.
What if God is a mystery unfolding before us that becomes more beautiful every day?
Bob Brown is pastor of Stahl Mennonite Church in Johnstown, Pa.
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