When I hear of a new battle over the Bible, I am reminded of Mr. Board in south Georgia. Years ago, I was the 25-year-old pastor of Zion Hope Baptist Church in the south Georgia pines near Tifton. The church building sat serenely on a hill overlooking the road, with the parsonage to the left and the cemetery behind it — a little white frame sanctuary, joined by a newer fellowship hall and classroom building.
On Sundays about 60-70 people showed up, and they were wonderful folks. Most were farmers, either full-time or in their off-hours, as they struggled to draw a living from the south Georgia soil. Very few of our members were well-off financially, but due to their faithfulness the Zion Hope Baptist Church had stood for 114 years in that community.
In the congregation was an older lady who always came to church alone — Mrs. Board. I don’t remember her first name now, if I ever knew it, because I respectfully called her Mrs. Board. One of our deacons pulled me aside one Sunday, and told me that Mr. Board never came to church, hadn’t been baptized, and was probably not a Christian.
Undaunted by the prospect of facing an unbeliever in our midst, I decided to go visit Mr. and Mrs. Board. I found their modest frame house on the unpaved sand road — south Georgia has a lot of sand — turned in their driveway, and saw Mr. and Mrs. Board sitting in the backyard. Mrs. Board was snapping beans, and Mr. Board was keeping her company.
I sauntered up, introduced myself to Mr. Board, greeted Mrs. Board, and sat down on the metal chair they pulled up. For several minutes, we made the kind of small-talk folks make in south Georgia — about the weather, the crops, the Atlanta Braves, and finally the church.
At what I thought was an appropriate pause in the conversation, I asked Mr. Board if he had ever committed his life to Christ. He said, “No, sir, I’ve never done it.” Then I said, “Mr. Board, do you believe the Bible?” I was ready to whip out my new, pocket-size leather New Testament and take Mr. Board on a walk down the “Roman Road to Salvation.”
To my complete and utter surprise, Mr. Board said, “Yes, sir, I believe every word in it.” I was stunned. I probably sat there with my mouth hanging open, because I had never had anyone say this to me who was not a Christian. Frankly, Mr. Board threw me a curve ball, and I stood there flat-footed. I couldn’t think of a response. In my mind, I was trying to figure out how someone could believe the Bible, but not trust Christ.
I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. I just remember leaving there confused, and frustrated. As the years have passed, I have thought about what Mr. Board said that day I sat in his backyard.
I now realize that Mr. Board was expressing a profound respect for the Bible, but not a personal acceptance of its message. Which is not unlike our battles over the Bible — we have head knowledge that has a hard time getting to our hearts.
A year later, I left that church and never saw Mr. Board again. I hope his respect for the Bible eventually became a love for its Author. Because believing every word in it isn’t enough.