I posted this on my facebook wall and got a really good conversation going there so I am posting it here for those who read things here but also to save it for future reference.
There was a time in Churches of Christ when we taught that every conceivable thing we do is backed by scripture. This has caused a few issues in our fellowship that we are now dealing with. The first is that we came to a conclusion that every conceivable matter was of equal importance to every other conceivable matter…so people will get all upset and bent out of shape with a change in tradition as if the divinity of Jesus was just denied from the pulpit! Don’t change the color of the carpet or the hymnals or mic singers, etc because it must be wrong and a salvation issue!
Second, people have come to believe that because we have a verse for every conceivable thing we do that means anything we change must be wrong.
I remember one time when we decided to pass communion from the back toward the front instead of from the front toward the back. One of the brothers got irate and said he couldn’t be a part of it. This is symptomatic of a mindset that says change is bad because it either means we have been wrong all of these years or else the new way of doing it must be wrong.
In areas of silence there is something that develops called tradition. There is no verse on what time worship begins or if we meet on Wednesday nights. That is formed by tradition. In fact, if we want to be perfectly biblical we would meet daily since that is what they did in Acts 2. I don’t hear anyone upset over that and yet it is right there in the Bible!
This example shows us that even the examples of scripture are given some flex in our fellowship. We don’t follow them all strictly or precisely in all instances. To insist we do is disingenuous. If we did we would also only meet in homes because we have no evidence of a church building for close to 200 years. And yet I have seen elderships who wouldn’t allow small groups to meet in homes apart from the main building even though the home groups have more biblical backing of that form of meeting than a church building does.
How did we get here?
I believe a large part of our problem goes back to a preaching style that I now believe was unhealthy for our fellowship. Sermons would often use dozens of verses in order to make a variety of points and we viewed a sermon as more biblical because it had more scripture. The problem underlying that was in throwing out so many scriptures it was impossible to view and understand those scriptures in their actual context which means we often missed the point of what it actually said.
In doing so we developed the idea that we have a verse for everything and can back up everything we do somehow with scripture, even things that aren’t mentioned in the Bible.
Let me give two examples of this:
1 – The Lord’s supper is to be taken on the first day of the week per Acts 20:7. It says they came together on the first day of the week to break bread. If you just read this one verse that is what you get and I am good with that. I want you to hear me say that I agree that is what we are to do and that is what I do personally. However, if you read the rest of the story you find they don’t actually break bread until after midnight which is Monday. But people would have a cow if a church took communion early on a Monday as they did in Acts 20. No one would say Paul sinned for allowing that to happen but if it happened today people would be up in arms.
2 – The Sunday collection. People say this is authorized by 1 Cor 16:1-2a
Notice I said 1-2a because if you read the rest of verse 2 Paul actually tells them that they are to collect on the first day of the week for a specific, set purpose (to help the church in Jerusalem) and that they are to do it before he comes so the money will be ready so that after he collects it they can stop taking up the money on the first day of the week. Here is the whole thing in context,
“Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 3 Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.” – 1 Cor 16:1-3
We always stop the reading short before that little phrase, “so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” We read that verse often at collection time to justify having the collection but that is not even what that verse is about! Our collection is a tradition. It is necessary. It is understandable. It falls in line with the need for Christians to be generous people. It is our method of doing what the early church did in Acts – helping out those in need, assisting those ministering to others, etc. All of those things are biblical principles to be lived out in the local congregation and the way we have chosen to embody that is through the offering. The method of weekly contribution is tradition while the purposes it is used for are perfectly biblical. So I have no problem with the collection. We just have to try to understand the texts we have and why we actually do what we do. People are hesitant to say that, maybe for fear people will stop giving or something. I don’t think that is warranted. We are still called to give, to support each other, to assist those who minister to others, etc. Again, all of that is perfectly biblical and we have selected the way in which we do it that has no biblical precedent…and here is the point…that is tradition…AND IT IS OK AND GOOD!
Just a few things to consider.
The Church of Christ, and other conservative denominations as well, forgot, to the hardening of the heart and mind, that healthy religion is expressed through art, not mathematics. Needing all conclusions to be as simple as the sum of “2 + 2”, made most sermons and articles to resemble a mathematical formula; it all had to add up. The complexity of the human being, now, as well as during the writing of the scriptures, is ignored.
Yet, if we pay attention to our reactions to art, whether it be song, poetry, painting and even something as common as pottery, we see grand differences between us in how we see and listen. There is an ancient saying that goes, “As one face differs from another, so does one human heart from another”. Even within ourselves, we, regardless of how we do not like to admit it for fear of not seeming convicted, have a multitude, each one coming to the surface in its own time depending on what is moving us. And sermons that actually speak to the complex human situation must find their power in the creative depths of the minds and hearts of those who wrote the Bible. The scripture must be sung in order for it to mold us. We have already seen how thinking it makes us smart has brought about a grand embarrassment.
Proof texting caused a lot of grief but it will take a generation or two to get train new seminary students if the faculty are willing to teach a new style of preaching and don’t demand the students use the old way. The first few times I heard a homily from the gospel in an Anglican Chapel instead of a cofC sermon with proof texts, I began to finally understand what the gospel meant.