The Public Word
I was cleaning out some ‘stuff’ and had to sort through some remaining tapes that hadn’t yet been weeded out. Among them were the tapes from the main speaker, Tommy Nelson, at the 1991 CCC Christmas Conference in Dallas. One of the five tapes was titled something along the lines of “The Priority of a Private Passion”. I can’t remember the first couple words (though I’m sure there was a ‘P’ in there for alliteration), but the last couple words stood out. I remember the talk. It was all about the preeminence of a daily quiet time if one wanted to walk with the Lord. The speaker even explained how, in 17 years, he had only missed one quiet time, and it was because of the crazy schedule he had to keep at a camp. When he realized he hadn’t had one that day, the boys he was with in the cabin were already asleep, so he called to mind some chapters of the Bible he had memorized as a poor substitute for his QT.
Now, the day before I saw this tape, during the small group I lead at our home, someone had asked me to explain if private devotions or hearing the preached word was more important. I had no idea what to say, and then, strangely, I realized the answer was actually very straightforward. I asked the group if there was any one thing that the Bible emphasized as a daily activity with regard to learning/interacting with scripture. The answer is to talk about it (see Deut 6). When you get up, when you go out, when you come in, etc. Talk about it. Was this emphasis simply a result of the fact that Deuteronomy predates the printing press? I doubt it. And that brings us to the public/private distinction.
The input from scripture about scripture tends to put it in a public context. This is not to say there are not private goals (hide it in your heart so you don’t sin), but most of the input is driven at a public context. Know the Word so you can give a ready answer. Talk about it all the time. Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training. And on and on. The gifts given to the church are to drive the public use of scripture (preaching, teaching, etc). This public dynamic is in the context of the church, a community, rather than set against the backdrop of an individual’s quest for personal improvement. The Word is to benefit the body of Christ.
By approaching the topic in this manner, the emphasis on the preached Word begins to make sense. Our goal is not to privately appropriate the scriptures as an individual effort. Rather, the scriptures, just like the one faith and one loaf and one baptism, build a community. The individual, private sanctification takes place in a corporate context. And from a practical level, this makes a lot of sense. Want to form a cult? Just go study the Bible in complete isolation for 10 years and you should be ready.