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Peter Beck Christian Blog and Commentary

Where's Waldo?

  • Peter Beck
    Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
  • 2009 Apr 01
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Do you remember the children’s books, “Where’s Waldo”? These books appealed to, or perhaps created, the obsessive compulsive side in many children and their parents. Every page was papered with a cacophony of cartoon characters and scenes. The erstwhile hero of the book, Waldo, was hidden in plain view in the midst of these humorous situations. The object of the book was, you guessed it, to find Waldo.

Finding Waldo was not as easy as one would think. The problem was not that Waldo was camouflaged. In fact, Waldo looked essentially the same from page to page. The type of his clothing might vary slightly, but his color palette remained consistent. Therein lies the problem. The real Waldo and a host of would-be Waldos wore the same colors.

Is that Waldo? Or, is that Waldo? Where is Waldo?

Sometimes you got lucky. Your eye went right to the real Waldo and you celebrated with a childish sense of glee that you proved to be the victor in Waldo’s cartoon world. Other times it didn’t work out that way. Sometimes you were so duped by the wannabe Waldo’s that you could never find the real deal. If you weren’t careful, after a while you found yourself so engrossed in the amusing cast of characters that obscured your quest that you eventually forgot the quest itself. Waldo’s imitators became the object of your affections. All the while Waldo was still waiting for you to find him.

Unfortunately, we see the same thing in so many of our churches. We’ve become so engrossed by the things we do, those things that we associate with church, that we’ve forgotten why we “do” church. The parts overwhelm the whole. Worship becomes focused on the instruments not the worshipped. Preaching revolves around the preacher not the preached. We have seemingly forgotten why we come together in the first place.

I recently found myself looking for Waldo in church. Not the ubiquitous cartoon boy in the primary colors but something far more important. I was looking for the Bible and I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t anywhere I thought it would be.

I looked under the seats and the Bible wasn’t there. I looked for it on the pulpit, but the pulpit wasn’t there. I listened for it during the time of worship and I didn’t hear it there. In fact, if it were not for the few moments that the text du jour was displayed on the overhead screen, I never would have found the Bible. I didn’t even need to bring a Bible to church.

As I looked for Waldo that Sunday morning, I began to ask myself a question: Are we having a truly biblical time of worship when the Bible has such a little role in worship? The answer is obvious. The answer is, “No!”

Paul admonished Timothy to give attention to the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim 4:13). That being the case, why don’t we? Why is it that so few churches incorporate any public reading of the Bible in their so-called worship?

Paul also counseled Timothy to preach the Word, by which he meant the whole Word, not just the easy parts (2 Tim 4:2 and 3:16-17, respectively). And while not all pastors are doing this as faithfully as we’d hope, the evangelical church as a whole is making great strides in this direction.

Jesus taught the apostles how to pray and told them to pray like this … the Bible (Matt 6:9). Now, I’m not saying that extemporaneous prayers are unbiblical or that we ought only to pray written prayers. What I am saying is: I’ve not heard anyone pray the Bible in a long time.

What about singing the Bible? Aren’t we supposed to be singing the Bible (Col 3:16)? I’m not opposed to singing new songs and I believe Paul allowed room for hymns and the voicing of biblical themes in contemporary language. But, when was the last time you sang a Psalm in church? Why do so few of our favorites hymns speak in biblical terms?

Biblically-speaking we are to read the Bible, preach the Bible, pray the Bible, and sing the Bible. So, where is the Bible on Sunday morning? For far too many of us, it’s at home on the shelf collecting dust.

May God forgive us for thinking that His word has so little to say on Sunday morning.