On Friday afternoon, we set out for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. It is not nearly as grand as some of the other cathedrals in the British Isles, but you can tell that it is very special to the people of Dublin. As one of the two Protestant Cathedrals, I was taken by the restoration that has been done; with special attention to authentic detail so as to preserve as much of the original flavor of the church as possible. But one thing really struck me more than anything else; and that was the lectern that held the Holy Bible in the front of the church. Because there, on the right as you faced the front, the large pulpit Bible was open, on the outstretched wings of a brass eagle! It was very impressive; and although I knew what it meant, it was obvious to me that I was very much in the minority about the importance of the way the Bible was presented.
Because in the Dark Ages, the Bible was only to be read by the clergy and the average person attending church had no idea what the Scripture said, and in many cases, could not even read. Unfortunately, this is how the church kept control over its parishioners. The Bible was locked up when not in use, to prevent theft, and it was not made available to the commoner. And in the churches, the member of the clergy would read the Scripture from behind the pulpit, and move around to the side of the church to preach the sermon. Sometimes, both pulpits would be located in front, one of either side of the center aisle. But the reading of God’s word always happened from one pulpit, and then the sermon would be preached from the other one. The reason was very simple – the reading of God’s word could never be confused with the words, inspirations or thoughts of the clergy commenting on God’s word.
If you have ever visited an old church in Europe, you have probably seen two pulpits in the church – most of the time, the one the sermons were preached from is literally halfway down the center aisle, on the side of the church. In this way, it was clearly evident that what was said from the “front” was God’s word, and the rest was commentary – subject to human interpretation.
At the end of the Dark Ages when we had the Age of Enlightenment, and then the invention of the printing press, the translation and subsequent printing of the Bible in larger quantities got underway. This meant that the Bible was more available for widespread distribution. The Bible was no longer kept in the “dark” as it had been for so long. Now don’t get me wrong – the Bible was still very expensive, but more churches and houses of worship could afford them, and gradually, they became more commonplace in the culture; especially England and the rest of the British Isles, with the translation of the King James Version, or Authorized Version, of the Bible starting in 1611. That was 400 years ago this year. And while we think of personal copies of the Bible, the pulpit Bibles were much larger, at least 4 times as large as the personal bible you probably have at home.
And churches gradually got the idea that the Holy Scriptures should be available to everyone, and not locked up. So churches starting leaving their Bibles open on the lectern in the front of the church, where people could come in and have firsthand exposure to an actual Bible. Every once in a while, the Bible would be left at the rear of the church near the entrance, but not usually. And at Sunday services, the passages for the week would be marked for a liturgist to read. The Bible would then be left open all week.
So why all the fuss about this? It’s really quite simple, and has become an important part of our U.S. history. For as the founding fathers of this country travelled throughout Europe, and recalled their own upbringing, many times in the Church of England, they remembered the eagle and how it held God’s word; and how it was open to all. Have you connected the dots yet? Because that’s how the eagle was chosen as the symbol of America. Founded on the bedrock principles of Christianity, the United States was a melting pot of cultures that was “open to all”. Hence our commitment to religious freedom and and acceptance of people from throughout the world.
And it all started with Bibles open on the outstretched wings of eagles in churches throughout Europe. Pretty cool, isn’t it? The verse tonight? From 2 Tim. 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Out of respect for the first Bible to have widespread distribution in the world, tonight’s verse is from the King James Version.
My encouragement tonight is to continue to seek the truths of the Bible in your own life. Because Christ died for everyone, and that means that we have a responsibility to make sure that the Bible is “open to all.” And my prayer is that you will focus on the word of God, and not confuse the inerrant words of God with the commentary of clergy on Sunday mornings from the pulpit. I furthermore hope that you will claim the promises of the Bible and that you will enjoy eternal life with the Father. Have a great day in the Lord.