'Doing it by the book’ implies that (1) we have the book, (2) know its contents, and (3) have a high regard for what it says. People who do things ‘by the book’ don’t make up their own rules or cut corners to save themselves effort.
On a number of levels, this isn’t how it is for most people today. We’re in an age that doesn’t like authority and will cut corners wherever possible. Relatively few people read the Bible. To see it as offering valuable, even essential guidance to live successfully is a highly ‘alternative’ viewpoint. It is presenting an idea quite foreign to most people today.
Churchgoing is in sharp decline, in the traditional denominations at least. It hasn't always been like that. At times in our history it has been compulsory, but we wouldn’t want to go back to that. At other times, in revivals, it has dr awn in the whole community. Some of the newly-built chapels built by followers of John Wesley instituted a ticket system; you didn’t get a ticket to attend on Sunday unless you had attended your discipleship ‘class meeting’ in a home. The chapels were not to be places of passive, spectator religion, but the overflow of lives lived to know Jesus and live for Him.
A century later, church buildings in the large cities were extending and replicating. The reason was partly social — the industrial revolution bringing people into the towns — but also the prayer-fuelled evangelical revival which started in the US and then swept across the UK in the mid to late 1800s.
Ordinary people were hearing the teaching of the Book, and growing literacy and availability meany that many had a family Bible; family devotions round the dining table were common.
Today, in a multi-cultural, multi-faith society we take our lead, not from family devotions or the ‘lessons’ read out and preached on a Sunday, but from the media and entertainment which ‘preach’ their own message. To study the Book and meditate on it is to be ‘set apart’ from the values which most people hold. It is to risk being misunderstood and even ridiculed. It brings the conflict of not being politically correct or ‘woke’, in tune with today’s world.
The promise of being prosperous (in a broader sense than financially) and successful comes with a challenge: to be people who have a grounding in what God has always said, and an awareness of what He is saying now, through that same word — and at the same time, relating to the wider world which holds different values. Everybody wants to be prosperous and successful, but most want to do it their way. People of Jesus who are, by definition, people of His book have the key to this — so it is entirely relevant.
To duck the challenge by becoming closed communities, somewhat withdrawn from the world, is to deny the value and relevance of what we have have discovered, as well as rejecting the Great Commandment to love God and love other, and the Great Commission to make disciples of all kinds of people.
To help us all know what the Book says and to think about it and to do it, is the call of every Christian today, and it is what we are attempting to do here through using new media creatively, for the kingdom of God.