Is God's word far off?
The "Iglesia Ni Cristo" teaches that it is impossible to understand the Bible without the help of a minister. Is it really impossible to do so?
The Bible refers to this kind of teaching as saying that God's word is "far off". In other words, when we say that we need someone to explain the Bible to us and deny the responsibility we have to read and understand it ourselves, we say that God's word is far off, even though it teaches that it is near to us.
Moses told the Israelites not to say the law is far off.
Deuteronomy 30:11 (ESV) - "For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
The Israelites knew that they possessed the words of God. However, they were tempted to say that the word was too difficult to understand and that they needed someone to explain it. Once we have heard or read the word of God, in whatever format, the word is in our mouth and in our heart so that we can obey it.
One might argue that the verse speaks of the word being distant, not being too difficult to understand. Such a wooden interpretation of these words renders Moses' command useless. The Israelites were not so non-sensical as to claim that God's word literally lay on the other side of the sea! Their temptation was that they would claim they did not understand it!
Paul told the church in Rome not to say the gospel is far off.
Paul quoted Moses' words about the law. When he did, he applied what Moses said to the gospel of Jesus.
Romans 10:5-12 (ESV) - 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, "Do not say in your heart, 'Who will ascend into heaven?'" (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 "or 'Who will descend into the abyss?'" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
The law that we are to obey is binding from the moment we hear it. Additionally, the gospel that we are to heed is binding from the moment we hear it! Those of us who have heard the good news of Jesus Christ cannot claim to need a minister to explain it to us. We also cannot claim to need a minister to explain the word to others. The word is near us.
Someone who is in possession of the words of God, whether it be through a ministers preaching or a Bible in their own language, is responsible for understanding that word. They are responsible for placing their trust in it and obeying it.
The wicked say God's word is far off when it is actually near. Let us not say that we need someone to bring us God's word when we already have it. Let us affirm the responsibility we have to heed the call of the gospel even when that call comes from the pages of a book and not the lips of an ordained minister.