Each and every hotel and motel around the United States always has that one dresser drawer in each room that contains a Holy Bible that was donated and put there by a Christian group and organization called The Gideons International.
In fact, during my recent trip to Florida and Disney World just last week, this was proven to be the case once again. I made a point to remind myself to do some research on who these "Gideons" were when I got home so here we are.
Personally, I'm not out to attack or criticize them in this piece, but to better understand who they are and what they're all about and to see how that reconciles with what we believe, teach, and confess as Confessional Lutherans.
You know, I don't think I've ever met a Gideon face-to-face, and while I think it's absolutely wonderful that their efforts have succeeded in placing a Holy Bible into the millions upon millions of motel and hotel rooms across America, I also can't honestly say if it's the same Bible that you and I have.
In short, what's up with The Gideons International then? What do they believe, teach, and confess about our shared and cherished Christian faith? Are all those Bibles a "good" thing if they're word-for-word accurate or a "bad" thing if they've been altered and "modernized" in any way?
"Dedicated To Bible Distribution And Evangelism"
Gideons International is an evangelical Christian association founded 1899 in Janesville, Wisconsin. The Gideons' primary activity is distributing copies of the Bible free of charge. This Bible distribution is a global enterprise taking place in 200 countries, territories and possessions. The association's members focus on distributing complete Bibles, New Testaments, or portions thereof. These copies are printed in over 100 languages. The association is most widely known for its Scriptures placed in hotel and motel rooms. The Gideons also distribute to hospitals and other medical offices, schools and colleges as well as jails and prisons. The association takes its name from the Biblical figure Gideon, depicted in Judges 6. The Gideons International has an international presence. Its members distribute Scriptures in many countries to people who cannot afford to purchase Scriptures on their own. Gideons began distributing free Bibles, the endeavor for which they are chiefly known, in 1908, when the first Bibles were placed in the rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. Members of The Gideons International currently distribute over 80 million Scriptures annually, and the numbers are growing, especially in places like Brazil, India, and Asia. On average, more than two copies of the Bible are distributed per second through Gideons International. In late April of 2015, Gideons distributed their historic two billionth Scripture. The distribution of the first one billion Bibles and New Testaments by Gideon members spanned 93 years (1908 to 2001). The second billion was attained in less than 14 years (2002 to 2015). The headquarters of Gideons International is in Nashville, Tennessee.
The association, an early American organization dedicated to Christian evangelism, was founded in 1899 at the YMCA in Janesville, Wisconsin by two traveling businessmen who met by chance when they shared a hotel room at the Central House Hotel in Boscobel, Wisconsin. Of the three members at the original meeting, two continued with the distribution of the Bibles. Gideons began distributing free Bibles, the work it is chiefly known for, in 1908, when the first Bibles were placed in the rooms of the Superior Hotel in Superior, Montana. The organization describes its link to the story of Gideon: "Gideon was a man who was willing to do exactly what God wanted him to do, regardless of his own judgment as to the plans or results. Humility, faith, and obedience were his great elements of character. This is the standard that The Gideons International is trying to establish in all its members, each man to be ready to do God's will at any time, at any place, and in any way that the Holy Spirit leads." In keeping with this symbolism, the symbol of the Gideons is a two-handled pitcher and torch, recalling Gideon's victory over the Midianites as described in Judges, Chapter 7. In addition to their well-known hotel room Bibles, members of The Gideons International also distribute Bibles to members of the military of various countries, to hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, MPs and students. The covers of the New Testaments distributed by Gideons are color-coded based on which groups they are meant for. A single copy of the Holy Bible in a hotel or motel room has the potential to touch up to 2,300 lives during its average life span they say.
-- [Source: Wikipedia]
That doesn't sound so bad, does it? I mean, if they're simply distributing God's Word FREE OF CHARGE and around the world, then more power to them, right?
For starters, The Gideons International is not a denomination or a church. As a result, some could appropriately argue that they are "Missionorific Gospel Reductionists" (more on that in just a moment).
Now, that doesn't mean they are "bad" people per se or that they're "not" Christians. Quite the contrary!
Putting the best construction on this group and what they do, it's definitely noble that they are making Bibles available not just here in America but around the world, and that they say they only trust God to use His Word to increase His kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:6) rather than their own efforts.
That's refreshing to hear in this day-and-age of "Church Growth" strategies and techniques! Even so, you and I both know from our own experiences with the LCMS that was it says on a website doesn't always match the practices that are being done out in the real world.
Of particular interest (and concern) to me was this brief description that...
(Each Bible distributed contains...) a short description of the Evangelical understanding of salvation, with Biblical quotations, and a place for the reader to sign and date their confession of Jesus as their Savior (this is especially common in the shorter editions featuring the New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs).
Of course, we would reject something like that due to its use of the so-called "Sinner's Prayer" approach to evangelism, which they also affirm on their website.
In addition, I learned that membership is limited to current or retired business or professional men aged 21 or older who are members in good standing of an Evangelical or Protestant church. Wives of Gideons may only join what's called the "Gideons International Auxiliary" and that's it.
Yep, we'd certainly reject that too.
My research also led me to an 114-page PDF File published by The Gideons International called "The Life Book" that reads like another denomination's contemporary and post-modern version of the Book of Concord (BoC) by the way they attempt to explain the Bible in layman's terms with a "Ghost Reader's" anecdotes, comments, and notes in the margins.
However, it comes across a little too conversational and irreverent and detracts from its primary purpose, in my humble opinion. Then again, it is aimed at the youth in this country so it's really no different than the material you'd often find being distributed by most Youth Groups today.
Please don't misunderstand me though. When I said that it "reads like another denomination's contemporary and post-modern version of the Book of Concord (BoC) by the way they attempt to explain the Bible in layman's terms" that's not to imply that it's a theological treatise on par with the BoC or that I even tacitly approve of it.
Truth is, I haven't spent much time reading through it at all since I discovered it so please be careful and discerning should you choose to do that yourself.
According to the Gideons, I learned that...
The Gideons International continues to contact youth in America through The Life Book, coordinating with churches and their youth to distribute copies of the Bible in high schools.
In other words, The Gideons International is very much "Missional" and "Church Growth" oriented despite their claims of adherence to 1 Corinthians 3:6, and The Life Book is their primary tool for finding success in those worldly pursuits.
Finally, it seems as if their beliefs and well-intentioned efforts to spread the Gospel ignore the importance of Christ's Church, His Sacraments, the Office of the Holy Ministry, and the Doctrine of Vocation too (note: they embrace a slightly different view of vocation it seems rather than simply ignoring it outright).
I may be over-generalizing a bit based on the limited info I found, but if that's the case, then that's not so good.
Yes, what The Gideons International have done to spread God's Word over the course of the past 100+ years is truly amazing when you think about it, but we must be very careful not to give them all the credit for what God and God alone has done to grow Christ's Church around the world, because He and He alone should receive all the credit.
There's a scent of a "New Obedience" and "Theology of Glory" mindset that pervades everything I read related to The Gideons International so that also cannot be ignored.
In a Lutheran layman's terms, The Gideons International seems to have its heart in the right place when it comes to evangelizing the lost and spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ still after all these years, but we also need to be discerning about some of the beliefs they hold to as well as some of the methods they use to reach the lost and how they are inconsistent with what we Lutherans believe, teach, and confess as Biblical truth.
Still not convinced? Need more proof?
Thankfully, I found a commentary written and published by a Lutheran layman who was once a Gideon himself that speaks directly to these truths I've identified and that explains why it's so important for us to mark these critical differences and separate ourselves from them.
After attending the meetings for a while, though, I knew that I couldn’t stay. Despite their claims of being a non-sectarian para-church organization, the nature of the organization lends itself to certain idiosyncrasies of American Evangelicalism which are, at best, suspect. Among the issues I ran into were Pelagianism, the prosperity gospel, works righteousness, and the idea that people are converted by your testimony rather than by God working through means as he has promised (the means of grace – Word and Sacrament). At camp meetings, there were a lot of heart-wrenching stories of how this-or-that person’s life was changed for the better after they received their PWT. It was also sobering to hear the accounts of Gideons in other, more hostile parts of the world, enduring great hardship in order to get Bibles and New Testaments into the hands of Christians who desperately needed them. What we never really seemed to talk about was Jesus. Well, Jesus was mentioned a lot. We just never seemed to talk about His death and resurrection as our atoning sacrifice, repentance, or the forgiveness of sin. We certainly never talked about our need for those things. I heard people discuss how they had been terrible sinners before their conversion, but that was the end of the talk of sin. After all, we were already Christians. Now that we were saved, it was our job to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, right? To many in the organization, I’m afraid, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling," translated to, "Live your best life now." Knowing what is in my heart, however, I also recognized my need to repent and receive forgiveness for my sin constantly. It didn’t take long for the tension level to rise. Jesus was there, to be sure, but he wasn’t the focus – D.L. Moody was. The important thing was the presentation – how being a Christian will make your life better, how to package this message in the most effective way to reach the unchurched. That may sound strange, but it was my experience.
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!