• John Branyan

When Sheep Become Ostriches


It’s tempting to unplug from the internet, pull the window shades down, lock your doors, and spend the rest of your life curled up in a corner chanting Psalm 23.

The church has a Bible study problem. Young Christians don't have this problem. It is unique to people who have been in the faith long enough to hear hundreds of sermons on the virtues of "Bible study."


A "Bible study" is different from merely "reading the Bible." In fact, a 'Bible study' is not like reading at all. Reading follows a sequence of ideas expressed in written phrases. Reading is what you're doing right now and it is not the way Christians are taught to "study" written text.


If you wanted to "study" this article the way Christians are taught to "study the Bible," you wouldn't have made it this far. You would still be contemplating the first sentence. You need a dozen concordances, cross-references, and commentaries opened to reference the word "church." You need to know how to pronounce the original Greek word. You need to know every other place that word is used in scripture. You need to contemplate the theological implications of the "church" as the "body of Christ." You need to wrestle with the "body of Christ" being the "bride of Christ" simultaneously. You need to meditate on every conceivable understanding of "church" throughout history in order to properly understand "the context." Then, and only then, can you safely move on to study the word, "Bible."


Your 'study' will bury the main idea under a deluge of ancillary factoids. You'll have traversed dozens of interconnected rabbit trails and gathered pages of notes with dates, names, locations, and assorted trivial tidbits. You will have expanded your knowledge on countless subjects and you will have no idea what this text actually says.


You'll be relieved to hear it is not a sin to "study the Bible." If you enjoy trivia there is no harm in packing your brain with "Fun Facts For Christians." Remember that I said this. It will help you fight against the urge to hate my guts as you read on.


I suggested in the opening paragraph that young Christians aren't burdened by the "Bible Study Problem." This is because they don't read the Bible, let alone study it. Young Christians are generally ignorant of scripture except when it appears in their Twitter feed pasted over a colorful photograph. Their theology is a monstrous assortment of memes, video clips, and humanist platitudes with just enough scripture to trick simple-minded folks into believing it is "Christianity." They turn this "Frankenstein Faith" loose on the public at every opportunity. They never contemplate the consequences of unleashing their beastly ideology into the innocent populace. That's a problem for sure, but it is the opposite of the "Bible Study Problem."


The book of 2 Timothy contains the phrase: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." The "Bible Study Problem" is what occurs when you spend so much time studying the scripture that you never get around to teaching, rebuking, correcting or training in righteousness. The Bible has become a source of infinite fascination and zero application. Your theology is rock solid and completely hidden from the public.


"A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house."

"Social media is awful," you declare. "Arguing about religion and politics never changes anyone's mind. I'm going to turn off the news, shut down my Facebook account, delete my email account, move deep into the woods, construct a shelter from chunks of earth, consume berries and rainwater, and just focus on Jesus."


I sympathize with you. I really do. It’s tempting to unplug from the internet, pull the window shades down, lock your doors, and spend the rest of your life curled up in a corner chanting Psalm 23. There is a certain appeal to becoming an “Ostrich Christian” with your head buried in the warm sand of perpetual bible study and prayer. The world is ungodly and vicious. We are unwelcome strangers here and I completely understand your desire to construct a sort of “heaven on Earth” where you can hide out until the day you meet God face to face.


I’d be right there with you if it weren’t for the Bible. As usual, God’s word contradicts my whims. As soon as I finish making the blueprints for my “Holy Hidden Haven” where I’ll live out my days communing with the Lord, isolated from the anguished cries of a world going to Hell, I accidentally read Matthew 5:13:


You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

I shouldn't need to tell a person such as yourself who has spent decades studying the Bible that none of the biblical role models were hermits. But I'm telling you anyway. The closest example of isolationism we have is John the Baptist who was described as a voice "crying out in the wilderness." He wasn't a voice "meditating in obscurity in the wilderness." There came a point where he packed his locust and wild honey in a brown bag and headed into civilization to actually tell people what he knew.


The Preaching of St Paul at Ephesus, Eustache Le Sueur

You Ostrich Christians think spiritual depth is achieved by being oblivious to the existence of evil. You think ignoring the darkness is the same as shining a light. You memorize 1 Peter 3:15—"be prepared to give a reason for your hope…"and then say things like, “I don’t talk about politics because it's divisive.” I wonder how you Ostriches are able to dedicate millions of hours to studying the bible without noticing that it's full of divisiveness. With a few exceptions, every chapter features scandals, conflicts, or events ranging from unpleasant to almost inconceivable wickedness. The whole book of Acts is nothing but a record of the Apostles' relentless civil disobedience. It could rightly be subtitled, "The Acts of Divisiveness."


I shouldn't have to tell a person like you, who is so thoroughly immersed in the scripture, that Christian doctrine creates conflict and not unity. But I'm telling you anyway. In your countless Bible studies you surely encountered Matthew 10:34:


Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Did you just stop reading after the part where Jesus said you're more valuable than birds? Jesus told you He's bringing a sword and you think that means you're supposed to stay home and pray for peace? How do you plan to lose your life for Christ's sake inside your conflict-free sanctuary?


It might be correct that arguing won't change a person's mind. It might also be incorrect. What you know for sure—because you've studied the Bible—is that you're not supposed to judge people. You don't know which minds are open to hearing the Gospel. Jesus told a story about a farmer scattering seeds. The farmer didn't spend any time trying to figure out which soils were the most likely to yield success. Neither did the farmer bury his head in the good soil because the plants didn't take root in the rocks. You're the farmer in that story.


You're allowed to detest social media and online conversations. It's okay to prefer face-to-face interaction. But it is not okay to only scatter your Gospel seeds on the soil you prefer. You don't get to choose where and when ministry happens. Wherever darkness exists, that's where you're supposed to shine the light. That's why you study the Bible, isn't it?


If you don't apply the Bible to any aspect of your life, studying the Bible is a waste of time.



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