Back to Bible Basics
“Wow! Did that really happen?” blurted a little boy from the neighborhood. Major Carol Ditmer remembers teaching him about the resurrection of Jesus several years ago during a Sunday school class in Hempstead, N.Y.
“He had never heard that before in his life,” Ditmer says. “I’ve had people in Bible studies who have never even opened a Bible or read anything in the Bible.”
Ditmer remembers teaching a home Bible study when a young man asked her to explain the expression “Lamb of God.”
“I was glad to get the question, but it really takes you back for a minute,” she said. “You have to really think, I’m speaking to somebody in another language, a language they don’t understand when I quote the Bible. I think we have to be so aware of that.
“When we talk to people about the Scriptures, we have to assume they know absolutely nothing about the Bible. We can’t assume they know the story of Noah anymore or that Christmas is about the birth of Christ. Kids have no clue Christmas is about Jesus.”
In an age of rampant biblical illiteracy, even among professing Christians, Ditmer said the values of going to church as a family and sending kids to Sunday school are waning.
“Other things have gotten our attention,” Ditmer said. “The world is full of distractions. I think TV and the media have a lot to do with it. People would just rather do something else than go to church and read and study the Bible. I think parents no longer see that as a value.
“I think the root of the problem is Satan and his deception in making people feel they can find truth on their own or within themselves. That’s very popular in our culture. We use the phrase ‘your truth,’ as if truth is something that is subjective. I basically think people are deceived by our culture. The only way we can fight the enemy is with truth in the blood of Jesus. Obviously, Satan doesn’t want us to know the Truth.”
Ditmer, now the corps officer at the Ocean County (Citadel) Corps in Toms River, N.J., said the corps has recently added two Bible studies. She also gives out Bibles and even old Sunday school curriculum in the soup kitchen and at other outreach events.
An officer for 34 years, Ditmer said churches need to “get back to basics” when it comes to improving biblical literacy.
“I think sometimes we depend on programs to teach people about Jesus and that doesn’t work,” she said. “There’s a place for programs, but searching His Word is the only way people are going to know who Jesus is. He’s the living Word. They’re not going to know about Jesus unless they read their Bibles.”
Captain David Means, the corps officer in Bradford, Pa., has accepted that challenge head–on. He said newcomers who start reading the Bible may find Genesis and Exodus fairly easy to digest, but Leviticus and Deuteronomy can be challenging and they “abandon ship at that point.” Once they get to the New Testament, Means said some of Paul’s theology can be overwhelming.
“There are many adults in the Army who struggle to read,” Means said. “Some of them went right into the workforce after high school. Their interest in reading is low and a lot of people shy away from even cracking open a Bible because they can’t understand it.”
Means said a few years ago he discovered the E100 Bible Reading Challenge from Scripture Union, which challenges its readers to a 100–day reading campaign. The reader absorbs 100 “essential chunks” of Scripture beginning with Genesis and ending in Revelation. Means said some in his congregation are doing the No Bible, No Breakfast/Bed read–through–the–Bible program from the territory’s Spiritual Life Department, but many like the E100.
“We saw an incredible spiritual growth in our congregation from the E100,” Means said. “We found during this challenge that our corps members felt comfortable with these easy to ‘digest’ chunks. This encouraged consistent daily readings and some even made it a daily reading event with their whole family. One family read the daily Scripture with their kids every evening after dinner. ”
Means said the readers often found themselves asking, “Well, what happens next? I don’t want to wait until tomorrow.”
“This curiosity led them to read even more than what the challenge called for and they grew a hunger to understand more,” he said. “They got excited to go back and read what they missed.”
A bygone era
Means said it was like missing an episode of their favorite TV show. “People were reading more of the Bible than they realized they would,” he said. “The people and their conversation got excited. The hunger was finally there. They would come to church talking about it. The narrative kept moving. It kind of kept it interesting as they kept reading.
“As they read, they were challenged by what the Bible was saying. The Bible is incredible to help us understand who our Father is. If people aren’t reading it, they’re just going to be clueless. People were getting excited and that translated into their own relationships within their family and God. They started inviting other people to church because their excitement was renewed to worship and learn.”
Major Susan Hinzman, the corps officer in Lexington, Ky., said she found a similar resource for teaching. Instead of offering topical Bible studies for Sunday school, the corps organized a class for new believers and would–be Christians, some of whom come from its homeless shelter. The book being used is called The Thin Red Line, a yearlong study covering Genesis to John.
“It traces the plan of redemption from the beginning to Jesus,” explains Hinzman, who teaches the class. “We find that many who come to the corps do not even know who some of the major prophets are, such as Abraham. They know Moses from the movies, but have no idea who others are, like Isaiah or even Joseph.
“Most often, they went to church with their grandmother when they were younger. Most of what they remember are stories about Jesus and stories about someone being thrown into a fire, but they won’t remember anyone’s name. They don’t know foundational stories in the Word.”
Hinzman said The Thin Red Line teaches the stories many longtime Christians might have learned as children, but it’s on an adult level and more in–depth.
“I have gone to church my entire life and I think I have learned something new every week,” Hinzman said. “It’s foundational stories throughout the Scriptures that take you up to Christ.”
A firm foundation
The class also features a “Missionary Member” who is not the teacher, “but someone who helps the conversation continue moving as well as being someone who is another familiar face in the congregation,” Hinzman said.
“The problem of biblical illiteracy is not just among adults,” Hinzman said. The corps uses the Orange Sunday school curriculum to feed biblical wisdom to children.
“Children used to have parents who read Bible stories to them at home, but today, they don’t get that,” Hinzman said. “Now we have them once a week and the likelihood of them retaining information is lesser.
“We found that many don’t know foundational things that used to be taught all the time, such as the books of the Bible, the Ten Commandments, the 12 disciples, and memorizing Scripture. We continue to work on this weekly in Sunday school.”
Hinzman said if children hide God’s Word in their hearts now, they will remember Bible verses years later when they need them.
“If we fall away when we’re adults, we’ll think back and remember a verse because the Lord whispers to us. He reminds us and even if we can’t remember the whole thing, we remember the essence.
“We forget that the Word is like a conversation with God. He says, ‘This is what I want you to do. This is what I want you to know.’ He thought it was so important that He wrote it down so I would have it today. If it was that important and has stood the test of time, then maybe I need to pay attention.
“I think our culture has lost a love for Scripture. We don’t learn to hold the Bible in our hands anymore. Now it’s on our phones and on our iPads and that’s fine, but we don’t long for it anymore.”
Majors Karen and Robert Bender, the corps officers in Painesville, Ohio, have not lost their love for God’s Word. They share it in every program, including community outreaches such as back–to–school distribution.
“There is not a program that we do not share Christ and reference Scripture every time we meet,” Major Karen said. “The homeless men and women hear the Word two to three times a week when they come into our hall to relax and wait for lunch.”
The sufficient Word
Major Karen said many people hear what the Bible says, but are reluctant to make it a part of their lives.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of them hearing so much as a lack of processing it,” she said. “We do share it everywhere and in every meeting and in every activity we have, but I don’t think they’re getting it anywhere else.”
Major Robert said some people may not know the Bible’s deep theology, but they’re generally aware of what the Bible says.
“I can’t tell you how many Bibles I give away,” he said. “I think people know what the Bible says, but they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to follow it. Among the homeless people who we deal with, there are some who are smart and intelligent when it comes to the Scriptures, but they don’t seem to want to apply it to their lives as far as growth and holiness and becoming more like Christ.”
Major Karen said some Christians are content where they are spiritually.
“Biblical illiteracy to me is, you’re not living [the Word], you’re just hearing it,” she said. “We try to get through to them that things can still change. To me, biblical literacy is keeping [the Bible] alive and active and growing, no matter what stage you’re at. Many people think they don’t need to grow anymore, but there’s always room for growth.”
Ditmer said getting people to read God’s Word is the key. God will take care of it from there.
“We think we need gimmicks to entertain people and somehow we have to make the Bible less boring to people, so we add things to it,” Ditmer said. “If we present the Word of God in its purity for what it is, people are so hungry and get so excited and are so interested about what the Word of God has to say, they eat it up. We don’t have to do anything to add excitement to it because it’s exciting on its own and it speaks to people and is powerful.
“God says His Word won’t return empty. That’s been my experience.”
by Robert Mitchell
An 8–point plan
Major Barbara Duperree says when she showed up at the Toledo, Ohio, Corps, attendance in Sunday school was “hit or miss.”
“Some soldiers opted out of sitting in a class,” she said. “As a corps officer, I am concerned about the lack of general Bible knowledge among our people. I suppose there are many reasons for this problem, and one is that people do not see the relevance of the Bible to their daily life.”
Duperree came up with eight steps to emphasize Christian education, and said the corps is beginning to see results.
“As corps officers, we need to remember that these issues do not change overnight, but that consistent emphasis will make the difference by creating good habits within the church,” Duperree said. “We are encouraged now that even some adults that sat out of Sunday school are now participating.”
Talk about the importance of Christian education to your corps council and church family.
Rearrange Sunday school so that all are learning together. “We established faith families where our congregation is mixed into various age groups so that adults can assist the younger ones in learning.”
Provide a light breakfast for everyone.
Teach the Bible with an emphasis on Scripture memorization.
Train teachers to be aware of the newest teaching methods and give them resources.
Focus on the application of the Bible to daily life.
Keep the disciplines that are important, such as missionary offering and corporate prayer. Also include the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.
Establish goals for Sunday school.