Friday, February 18, 2011

Five Things I’m Surprised I Can’t Find in the Bible

God is all and only wisdom, the very font of all truth. The Bible is His Word, and is true in all that it teaches, as well as sufficient to guide us into every good work. His Word is perspicuous, that is clear, and understandable. Not all of the Bible, however, is as clear as all the rest. These ground rules inform us, broadly speaking, that the Bible tells us everything we need to know, but that it might not all be right out there in the open. He has not only not left us orphans, He has not left us blind. That said, here are five things that are less clear in the Bible than I might, in the abstract, expect them to be.

1. Proper form of church government. The Bible is crystal clear that women are not to rule in the church, and that we are to submit to the elders over us. See Hebrews 13 for the latter. Thus the Reformers were correct to list discipline as a mark of the true church. If you are not under the authority of name-able specific elders, you are not part of the visible church and thus do not have a credible profession of faith. Repent, and get under authority. That said, good men have read all the relevant texts and ended up believing that only the local elders of a local church have any authority. That is what we call, historically, congregational church government. John Owen believed this and John Owen is pretty good company. Others believe that a body of elders in a given region oversee the local elders at the local church. This is Presbyterian church government. This is what Knox, Calvin, and all the great Princeton divines affirmed. Then some see oversight of particular congregations being done by bishops, individual men with peculiar callings. Here we find Lattimore, Ridley, and Cranmer. The Bible doesn’t come with a Form of Government.

2. Proper form of a service of worship. The Bible forbids us to forsake the gathering together of the saints. It tells us, in rather great detail, exactly how worship was done in the Old Covenant. In the New Covenant we know that we are not supposed to shed blood anymore. We know, anecdotally, what happened at this meeting and that. But even the most ardent supporter of the most narrow construction of the Regulative Principle of Worship has to confess that we tend to construct our orders of service like Frankenstein constructed his monster, a part here, a part there, cobble it all together and hope lightning strikes.

3. Proper form for preaching the Word. The Bible is clear that there is power to change us in the preaching of the Word. We know we are to preach the Word, and not our own wisdom. We know we are to preach Christ, and Him crucified. That, however, doesn’t tell us everything. I confess that I could preach for days on how to preach a proper sermon, but I would run out of proof-texts the first hour.

4. Proper way to move from single to married. The Bible is clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. They are to leave and cleave. And there are any number of specific instructions on how to be married. Not so much on how to get there in the first place. For such an important decision, it’s kind of scary there isn’t more direction here.

5. More information on the incarnation and the Trinity. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is a man. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God. The Bible clearly teaches that the Father is God, the Spirit is God and that God is One. How these things can be, that’s where it gets awfully complicated. For the first five hundred years after the ascension of Christ the church wrestled over these complex issues of doctrine. Athanasius was exiled five different times for championing the orthodox position that eventually prevailed.

This exercise, of course, isn’t designed to register complaints with the Bible. It is perfect. The exercise does, however, instruct me. I am far less than perfect. It reminds me to not shout where God has whispered. It reminds me to seek to align my priorities with His. It reminds me that while the Bible is not less than a rule book for the Christian, it is more than that. It is the very food by which we live. When we find ourselves troubled by the Bible, either by what is in there or what isn’t, we get a clue as to where our troubles lie.

We learn submission to authority is more important than the form of the authority.

We learn that while form matters, worship is a matter of the heart.

We learn to allow preaching to correct us, more than we correct preaching.

We learn that being a godly spouse is more powerful than picking the perfect spouse.

And we learn that we have eternity to learn more about who God is.

The Bible, like its author, is perfect. Praise that author that He is perfecting me through it.

1 comment:

david meyer said...

1. Proper form of church government.
2. Proper form of worship service.

I was always frustrated and yes, surprised that these are not there as well. But remember that the scripture came out of a living Church, not the other way around. So to the first point, of course that government was already in place, as history shows. If there is one thing Ignatius of Antioch pounds home again and again in his epistles (107AD) is the absolute requirement of obeying the bishop. If the bible were meant to provide every bit of necessary info we certainly would need more than it provides as far as Church government (think of the wild variety of governments in Protestantism). But I now think it quite clear that it was not meant to provide that. It is a book written within and for the Church, written by the rulers of the Church.

As to your second point, Believers were already assembling and celebrating the liturgy before the scripture was completed. The Revelation is a great example of this. It is loaded with imagery taken from the ancient liturgy which its recipients would easily recognize.

Expecting the scripture to provide instructions on these things is like expecting car and Driver magazine to provide detailed instructions on how an internal combustion engine works. Do you see where I am coming from?

I think your surprise comes from expecting something from the scripture which it was never meant to provide.

Two things I would add to your list are:

6. Table of Contents

7. Sola Scriptura

The irony of #7 is stunning.

#6 goes to further prove my point, that of course it is the Church, which as St. Paul says is is the "pillar and ground of the truth", which makes these things happen and protects them from tinkering. The canon itself is a testament to this fact. And the Church also had been (and still is) living it's form of government and its liturgy. No need to write a detailed instruction manual on something that is a lived part of the Churchs life.