Discussion is great. Dialogue is important. But there are things we do which make it much harder. One of them is to talk about how ‘biblical’ we are being.
I seek to be biblical! I just don’t claim I am
Please don’t get me wrong. I believe the Bible is the word of God, inspired, authoritative. I have chosen to submit to what I believe is its God-given authority. I will not write any of it off as being ‘simply wrong’. I will wrestle with it, study it, seek to live my life in accordance with it. I want to be a biblical person.
One of my church’s core values is to be ‘biblical’. I am totally on board with that! I want to be biblical. I want my church to be biblical. If I thought we were doing or being something contrary to the teaching of scripture, I’d say something. But I’d try to be careful about the way I said that ‘something’, and I’d be cautious in my use of the word ‘biblical’.
Because that word – ‘biblical’ – gets used in a number of ways which I think are unhelpful. Here are three.
1. ‘The biblical position’
“I take a biblical position on the issue of [insert topic here]”. I’ve heard that phrase quite often. I’ve said it, too. It’s really unhelpful, though.
What it does is shut the conversation down. If that’s the biblical position, then there’s no need to talk about it anymore. Case closed. Job done.
But what if maybe, just maybe, what I’ve assumed is ‘the biblical position’ is in fact wrong? What if it isn’t what the Bible teaches after all? What if – due to my culture, my own experiences, the baggage I bring to the text – I have misinterpreted it and what I’ve been holding to is in fact … unbiblical? It’s true, I can be wrong.
We shut down questions like that by labelling the established position as ‘the biblical position’. Worse, we shut down the questioners. Folk like Galileo. Or Martin Luther King. Or William Wilberforce. People who had to battle against ‘the biblical position’ to uphold what the Bible teaches.
Instead of accepting ‘the biblical position’, I want to be like the Bereans of Acts 17:10-12 who didn’t just accept things but “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” It’s harder, but it’s better.
“You may disagree, but I’m just being biblical.” We preachers can be particularly guilty of this one. At times when I’ve heard it I’ve wanted to pump my fist in the air and cheer. “Yeah! You are being biblical! Preach it!” That’s when I agree. When I don’t, I want to put my fist somewhere else. “How dare you! How dare you claim that’s biblical?! How dare you write off my beliefs as wrong just because you can’t understand the Bible properly?!”
Neither reaction is good. They both demonstrate pride, and they both serve only to entrench me in whatever view I hold already, make me more certain it’s the biblical view. What it doesn’t do is promote healthy dialogue.
What I’m not saying is that we should never say what we think is true. Far from it. We should, but in a way that helps, not in a way that entrenches. This is something my pastor, Malcolm, is very good at indeed. He’ll frequently say things like “I believe X because I believe it is what the Bible teaches. Others understand Scripture differently. I disagree with them, and here’s why.” He hasn’t labeled them as unbiblical heretics. He has honoured them, but also disagreed.
Surely that’s more helpful for all involved.
3. ‘That’s not biblical’
“Church in a coffee shop? That’s not biblical. We’re trying to be like the biblical church.” I hear this less often, but it’s still there, usually about how we ‘do’ church. We reject things because they aren’t how the ‘biblical church’ (early church) did them.
This feels like stating the obvious: we shouldn’t do things how the early church did. We aren’t the early church. We haven’t behaved like them for a long time. Nor should we. We should carry their heart, but expressions of church in our culture should be different because our culture is different.
Underlying this, I feel, is really a fear about things changing or moving on. It feels like the ‘right’ way to us, so it must be the ‘biblical’ way. I’ve certainly been guilty of this one many times.
We need to leave this thinking behind.
I’m not innocent. I’ve been guilty of all these things. I will continue seeking to be biblical, but I will also seek not to use that word or claim that title in ways that actually do me and others more harm than good.