The way we often use our Bibles makes no sense. We often hear it argued in Christian circles and churches that to be truly Biblical, we have do things as Jesus did them, or as the early church did them. This is especially true, we are told, when we read about Jesus giving instructions to His disciples. “We’re are His disciples, too,” the argument goes. “So we need to follow the same instructions that Jesus gave His disciples.”
This is all fine in theory.
The problem is when you try to consistently apply it. Take Luke 5:1-11 as an example. In this text, we see Jesus preaching from a boat after instructing His disciples to launch out a bit from shore. Maybe to follow the instructions of Jesus today, we should start having “boat churches.” (Actually, I hear that certain cruise lines have on-board chaplains. That’s a job I want! After all, I would be following the instructions of Jesus!)
But Jesus goes on. After He finished teaching, He told them to go fishing. If we want to obey Jesus, I suppose we should do the same. (To be honest, this is not a bad idea. Most churches are struggling to attract men. More might show up if we went fishing.) But of course, we would not be able to use rods and reels, since the disciples used a net. And of course, they were fishing in the middle of the day, which is a really bad time to fish, but…it’s what Jesus told His disciples to do.
I know, I know. I can hear it now. Howls of “You don’t understand! You can’t read the Bible that way!” Some reader somewhere is muttering about how I need instruction on the difference between “prescriptive” passages and “descriptive.”
So explain foot washing ceremonies to me. And why do so many churches feel we must wave Palm branches on Palm Sunday? And what’s up with the anointing with oil for healing? And why do we dunk new converts under water? And why do we have gleaming white buildings with giant steeples, multi-colored stained glass, and cushioned pews? Oh, wait. Scratch that last one. That’s not in the Bible (Though I once had someone argue with me that it was…).
But if you are in a church that does these sorts of things, and you try to get rid of them, you will get branded as a heretic for trying to disobey the instructions of Jesus. Well, if that’s the case, you better break out the fishing nets too.
Here is the issue: Why do we copy some of the actions of the disciples, but not others? Why do we follow some of the instructions of Jesus to His disciples, but not others?
I’ll tell you why. There are three reasons: tradition, politics, and money.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on church history recently (for that book I’m writing…Close Your Church for Good), and it constantly amazes me how much of what we do “in church” is a result of tradition (so much for Sola Scriptura) which developed 1000-1500 years ago as a result of a politician or priest who wanted more power or more money.
Look around when you next attend church and while thinking about various details or activities, ask “Why do we do this?” and “What would happen if we did away with it?” You’ll be surprised at how many nonessentials there really are.