Five Things I’m Not Surprised I Don’t Find in the Bible
In a previous piece I listed five things I am surprised I do not find in the Bible. I introduced the list by affirming the sufficiency of Scripture and the perspicuity of Scripture. I affirmed that my surprise is not evidence that Scripture fails us, but that we fail it. I affirmed as well that in the end we sometimes find answers to difficult questions through the necessary consequences of what is clear in the Bible, rather than what is clear in itself. What follows are some things that are part and parcel of at least some portions of the evangelical church that are not explicitly taught in the Bible. The Reformation did not cure our propensity for elevating our traditions to the level of Scripture. Thus we are always reforming.
First, I don’t see programs in the Bible. No Sunday school, no youth group, no Christian schools, no men’s meetings or women’s circles. It is not my intention here to argue that therefore these are all bad things. It is important, however, to note that none of these things are necessary. God does not require that we have these programs, nor that we participate in them. To insist that we must is legalism, adding to God’s Word.
In like manner, second, the Bible no where forbids the drinking of alcohol in moderation. The Bible says a great deal about the sin of drunkenness, but never says, “Thou shalt not have a glass of wine.” When we say this, we are adding to the Word of God. One of the ironies of the usually friendly debates that go on between Baptists and Presbyterians is that our Baptist friends are always insisting on an explicit text that shows babies being baptized. Presbyterians, confessing that no such text exists, are left arguing by implication. I happen to believe the implications to be valid and thus am Presbyterian. But when the shoe is on the other foot, on the issue of the moderate enjoyment of alcohol, our Baptists friends suddenly find the shoe on the other foot. They move from clear Biblical injunctions against drunkenness to the unbiblical inference of complete abstinence.
Third, the Bible no where teaches that we are to accommodate the worship of the living God to those who don’t worship the living God. The whole notion of “Seeker Sensitive” services is an idea that came from man, not God. The Bible, in fact, gives us as the example of the most effective evangelistic sermon ever Peter preaching at Pentecost. A fair summary of his message could be, “You stiff-necked Jews- you crucified the Messiah.” The message here brought 3000 into the kingdom. When Stephen gave essentially the same message just a few pages later in Acts, he is martyred for it.
Fourth, the Bible no where says that a spiritual person must have a quiet time. I discovered this counter-intuitive truth, ironically, through a quiet time. That is, in reading through the whole of the Bible I found out that it no where says we need to read the Bible every day. The Bible does say that the Word preached has the power to change us. How American of us to take that Biblical notion and turn it into something we can do on our own.
Fifth, the Bible does not explicitly teach that all sins are equal. This little nugget of received wisdom in the evangelical church is actually rather explicitly rejected by Jesus who said of the Pharisees that they tithe their mint and their cumin but neglect the weightier matters of the law. It is a good thing to recognize that all sin is cosmic treason. It is a good thing to affirm that any one sin causes us to stand guilty before God. It is a bad thing, however, to utterly flatten out the law of God.
Now keep in mind that I am not here arguing that at least some of the things in this list might be legitimate consequences of what the Bible does teach. I am neither suggesting that it is a bad thing to read one’s Bible daily, or that this program or that is evil. Instead I am arguing that we need to be a touch less dogmatic on these things, not elevating our traditions to the level of Scripture.
We need, while rightly arguing against Rome’s and Orthodoxy’s dogma on tradition, to be alert to our own practice with respect to our own traditions. We say “Sola Scriptura” but we cling to and defend our traditions as if we were defending the honor of the Blessed Mary herself. In short, we have logs in our eyes.