Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Bible Says It: Part 3

This is the third in a set of posts pointing out that nobody "just does what the Bible says". We all have times where we say, "The Bible says ..., but that doesn't mean ..." My point in these posts is NOT that we should do "just what the Bible says." My point is NOT that we should reject the Bible. My point is that we should stop pretending to do "just what the Bible says." No one "just does what the Bible says", even if he's thoroughly convinced that he does. I don't do that, and I now realize that I didn't do that even when I was thoroughly convinced that I did.

If you want to catch up, you can read the first post and then the second post. Or you can find all the posts with the tag "but that doesn't mean".

In this post I plan to point out more examples where people who claim to follow the Bible read it and then say, "But that doesn't mean". This installment will list some areas of practical application, both collective and individual. I'll start with one that is more or less unique to my heritage, the non-institutional churches of Christ.

  1. The Bible says (James 1:27) that pure and undefiled religion is to visit orphans and widows. But that doesn't mean that the church is authorized to help widows and orphans. Some argue that the church cannot do this good deed collectively; rather this good deed is reserved exclusively for individuals. The arguments against the church helping orphans and widows are very complex and involved and only a very, very few people have ever understood and even fewer have ever agreed with them. In order to forbid a church from helping orphans, you have to understand specific and generic authority in a certain subjective way. I find it odd that "specific and generic authority" are never mentioned in the Bible yet these subjective principles restrict this very clear statement in the Bible. Then there are these very subjective rules about what an individual may do versus what a church may do, and yet these rules don't apply to singing (and other things) for some reason. It's a very complex, nearly nonsensical set of mental gymnastics that one has to go through to teach that a church collectively helping widows and orphans is a damnable sin. I've described this practice as the non-institutional church of Christ version of Corban (Mark 7:9-13), and I don't think that's a big stretch. "Helping widows and orphans is an individual responsibility," they say. When it comes time to actually help widows and orphans, the individual funds are often already allocated for the weekly contribution to the church, which is for saving souls (and paving parking lots and climate controlling an oversized building which is only used 4 hours per week and replacing carpet etc., expedient things). And after all, saving souls, some would argue, is far more important than helping widows and orphans. This sounds a LOT like Corban in Mark 7:9-13. James 1:27 is a very simple, straightforward description of religion. But it doesn't mean what it simply says.
  2. Jesus said in Matt. 9:15 that His disciples would fast. But that doesn't mean that Christians must fast. I don't really understand why this verse and several more like it about fasting are completely ignored by many Christians claiming to "just do what the Bible says". I know a lot of Christians who have made a lot more out of a lot less (see Acts 20:7). Why not obey God in this simple yet effective spiritual discipline? Both churches and individuals generally ignore fasting. It's almost never practiced collectively outside of the churches that observe Lent. When I observed Lent and told about it, I received some harsh criticism for following the commandments of men. Actually, I was taking an opportunity to join other Christians in a fast; something Jesus seemed to expect His disciples to do. Which of God's commandments can we ignore while claiming to do "just what the Bible says"? Just the ones we agree to ignore, I suppose. The Bible says (multiple times) that Jesus' disciples will fast. But that doesn't mean that Christians must fast.
  3. James 2:2-4 says we should not show partiality to those in the assembly who dress in fine clothes... but that doesn't mean you don't have to dress up for church. I've seen this discussed on Facebook recently, and I've heard it most all of my life. This passage has the most to say about what people wear at an assembly, and the essence of this passage is, "If you show favoritism based on clothing, you have evil thoughts." In spite of what James says, there are still many churches that have unwritten dress codes. I've been turned down from public participation in a worship service because I didn't have on a tie. And I've heard private criticisms of others because they are not "dressed up enough". James says that these distinctions based on clothing indicate evil thoughts. The arguments for dressing up run the gamut of "meeting the President" to "appropriate for a wedding or funeral" to "priestly garments". They're complex, nuanced, cultural arguments to explain away a very simple Bible text.

There are many more examples. To close, I want to reiterate my main point here. We don't just do what the Bible says. You don't. I don't. At best, we do what we believe the Bible says. There's a big difference between what the Bible says and what someone believes the Bible means. When I think I actually do "just what the Bible says", then I am in grave danger of equating my interpretation with the very commands of God.

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