Fix these words of Mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads (Deuteronomy 11:18).
Twice in the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord instructs the Hebrew people to have the deepest intimacy possible with His commandments. They were to constantly think about and meditate on His precepts, not as a matter of external legalism, but borne of a deep heart-felt and head-driven passion and love for God.
Although generally considered to be analogous instructions, conservative Jews have literalized this verse wearing phylacteries on their foreheads and left arms – small boxes tied to their bodies, containing small scraps of the Word of God symbolizing their obedience.
I thought of this practice at the passing of Harold Fiss.
Harold was a wise counsellor, pastor, and preacher; but the unique strength he possessed above all others was his unparalleled familiarity with the Word of God. More than anyone I ever encountered, he was the best at finding a passage from only a small snippet of a verse, or a very general description of the corresponding text.
I witnessed him do this often: in informal conversations, in counselling, at elders’ meetings, and when in front of a large crowd as part of a biblical panel discussion.
At this, he was the master.
I’ve known Harold as an elder, preacher, hockey coach, and neighbor since the time I was a child. I also remember him – almost 50 years ago – as part of an a capella men’s quartet with a pitch pipe and matching green plaid jackets! I was enthralled, and now realize that the genesis of my love of various forms of live gospel music can be traced first to Harold’s quartet!
He was the author of Bethel’s Family Bible Hour. In the 1960s our practice was to have the Lord’s Supper followed by Sunday School each Lord’s Day morning. Harold asked if he could offer a Bible class for adults concurrent with the children’s classes. He had a single attendee in his first week. However, not one to be easily discouraged he pressed on and his little class grew as his understanding of – and ability to teach – the Scriptures became more evident. Eventually moving from a teaching position seated with his students to standing in front of them, Harold finally assumed his now-familiar position behind the pulpit.
Bethel’s Family Bible Hour – children in Sunday School, while the adults were in church – was born.
But his largest contribution to Bethel for me was his insistence that the Word of God be always regarded as having the overarching authority in faith and practice in the local church.
And that the people of God strive to know their Bibles, not just for reasons of intellectual curiosity or to win debates, but to cultivate attitudes and actions that honoured Christ – in our lives, marriages, families and in the local church.
Metaphorically, Harold Fiss was a fine example of one who wore the word of God in his mind, on his heart, and in his hands.