Yesterday I attended my first bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah. I was moved by the centrality of the Scriptures in the service. Bat/Bar Mitzvah literally means son/daughter of the commandments. From start to finish of this service, there is no doubt that the Torah, the law, the commandments of God were central, it was clear that this young woman was being handed down the traditions of the Scriptures as a guide to her life and faith. 90% of the readings and songs were directly from the Scriptures. There was entire ceremony built around honoring and celebrating the presence of Torah in the midst of the congregation.
My first reaction, I must admit, was a degree of jealousy. What a wonderful ceremony to celebrate the centrality of the Word of God in a community! As a seminarian and student/teacher of the Word of God, I must confess that I wish the Word were more central to the worship services of the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches that I have been a part of. I wish our songs were largely made up of Scripture directly. I wish that more Scripture was read publicly. I wish that preaching was primarily teaching the Scriptures rather than relaying a motivational idea that happened to be backed up by some Scriptures. All of these wishes seemed to be encapsulated in this Torah-focused bat mitzvah service.
But after my initial reaction, I did a little deeper thinking and reflecting on the Word itself. To what extent are we a people of the Word? And to what extent are we a people of something else? And if something else, then what are we a people of?
Well, there is no doubt that we are a people of the Word, showing that my base reactions aren’t misguided. We believe that it is by the Word of God that all that has been made was made. We believe that Jesus himself is the incarnate Word of God. And the Word itself teaches us that we have been re-born by the Word of God. And so we are a people of the Word. And that means more than we just read the Word and know the Word, it means that the Word is a power actively at work in us. It is something we must live by and not just have a knowledge about. We are a people of the Word.
But that is not all that we are a people of. We can learn from Jewish history and from Christian history that the Word, unfortunately, can be twisted. People can take the good and perfect Word of God and twist it to promote a message that is opposite of what the Word itself teaches. And in our ignorance about the Word of God, we can reject and not receive it. And so God, in order to accomplish his purpose in the Word, also sent the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes us receptive to the Word – “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
And so my base desire to see the Word made more central to the Evangelical and Pentecostal church, must also be enlivened by a passion to have the Spirit become more central to the church as well. For it is by the Spirit that we are made to be receptive to the Word. It is the Spirit who moves in us and helps us to walk in the way of the Word. It is by walking in the Spirit that we also fulfill the law.
I would love to see some formality put around the way we raise up our children in the church, giving them a marker for when they begin to progress into adulthood and become more responsible for their own spiritual development. But that is a blog for another day and I’m not certain this desire will become reality, but if it does, then the activities and ceremonies associated should communicate that they are sons and daughters of the Word and the Spirit, for we are a people formed by the Word through the in-working Holy Spirit.