We really need to be clear in our own minds what we mean by the word “unbiblical.” I’m afraid it’s used as a catch-phrase that covers an unreasonably broad area, so broad that it really doesn’t mean much. After all, we have all met people who think that Catholic practices like kneeling in prayer or observing Lent are “unbiblical.” This is, of course, just silly – Jesus knelt as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He Himself fasted for 40 days and told His disciples “When you fast…” not “if you fast…” There is plenty of Biblical backing for both of these practices (and they are observed in Protestant churches which recognize this fact). What people mean when they say that things like this are unbiblical is “We don’t do that in our church!”
So by “unbiblical” we can safely assume that one should mean practices for which NO Scriptural backing can be found, based on the assumption, of course, that if the Bible does not commend a practice in any way, shape or form, that “unbiblical” practice should not be found at any Christian church. Right?
Where is the Biblical justification for that institution we call “Sunday School”? Where in the Bible do we read that our children are to be taken out of the Sunday worship service and taught separately? I can find no Scriptural backing for this obviously “unbiblical” practice.
There are a ton of “unbiblical” practices at the average Evangelical church, if you define “unbiblical” as meaning “not found overtly expressed in the Bible.” Some obvious examples would be
– asking Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior (the foundation stone of “getting saved”in an Evangelical context, yet found nowhere in the Bible)
– altar calls (our Baptist church never went a Sunday without one!)
– the Christian flag (my children pledged allegiance to the Christian flag every morning at their Baptist school)
– “joining” a church – “church membership” (there surely isn’t much Scriptural backing for that)
Judging from these examples, when we say something is “unbiblical” it’s not safe to say that it’s wrong simply because it can’t be found in the Bible. After all, Sunday School is probably a pretty good idea! Teaching would-be followers of Christ to accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior is a good way to make a 21st-century, self-obsessed, worldly pagan understand that he is not just to give lip service to the idea of God, but is to commit himself to a relationship with the Almighty. Altar calls are our way of getting people to make a public commitment (so we can get their name and address and follow up on that commitment). Church membership helps individual churches get their ducks in a row, and that does not seem unreasonable. The Christian flag I could do without (talk about a dumb idea!).
So, if the phrase “that’s unbiblical!” doesn’t mean “we don’t do that at my church” or “that practice/concept isn’t mentioned in the Bible,” then what exactly does it mean?
How about “that DOCTRINE isn’t found in Scripture!”
Maybe that’s what we mean (or should mean) when we fume that something is unbiblical. A lot of practices are really good ideas, even if they aren’t explicitly found in Scripture (church buildings are a really good idea, but the first Christians didn’t build them). Doctrines, though, are a different thing. After all, all Christian doctrines have to have Bible verses to back them up, don’t they? If they don’t, they must be doctrines invented by men.
So we can tell the difference between a legitimate doctrine, like that of the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection, from doctrines like the Mormon “as man is, God once was; as God is, man may be” – not much Scriptural backing for that!
And when we assure grieving parents of a little child who has died that their baby is in the arms of Jesus, we can rest assured that that is a Biblical doctrine on which we can rely.
Just exactly what verses do we base that on?
After the Oklahoma City bombing I heard Billy Graham preach at the memorial service for the victims, many of whom were children. He assured the audience that those little kids went straight to Heaven because Jesus told us, ” See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in Heaven.”
How about the Christian belief that there is to be no more revelation from God? When Mormons come to the door and tell us that Joseph Smith was a prophet and we need to listen to him, we tell them that there will not be any more prophets with new revelation. We read to them the curse in the book of Revelation (Rev 22:18) informing us that anyone who adds to this book is anathema. And they politely and correctly point out that Joseph Smith did not in any way attempt to add one word to the book of Revelation, and that that verse doesn’t say that there won’t be any more revelation in the future; it just warns us against trying to add to the book of Revelation.
Protestants believe that there is to be no new revelation because they believe it. There is simply no biblical chapter-and-verse to back this up.
Of course, the Big Daddy is the Christian insistence that the Holy Spirit is God. There is not one verse in the Bible that tells us this. Jehovah’s Witnesses will make you acutely aware of that fact if you ever talk to them.
And yet, do I believe that infants go to heaven? that there is to be no new revelation? that the Holy Spirit is God? Absolutely!! But not because I can find verses that specifically tell me in so many words that I should believe it.
Confining the charge of “unbiblical!” to doctrinal issues leads us into a further quandary. If we insist that all Christian doctrines must be enunciated clearly in the Bible, we need to be able to show that THAT idea comes from the Bible – in other words, where in Scripture do we find Scriptural backing for our assertion that all Christian doctrines must be enunciated clearly in the Bible?
And there is the side issue of doctrines which are actually based on Scriptural backing, and yet are (according to most Evangelicals) quite wrong. The Health and Wealth “gospel” comes to mind. Proponents have a ton of verses “proving” that God wants us to be healthy, wealthy and cushy-comfy. I don’t think these verses prove anything, and neither do you – because we believe that proponents are reading a 21st-century desire to justify their spoiled lifestyles into the Bible and finding verses to justify those selfish desires.
I’m not even going to go into Jehovah’s Witnesses theology – they have chapters and verses for absolutely EVERYTHING – and there is no theology more erroneous.
The word “unbiblical” is the Evangelical equivalent of a swear word – it’s very handy, right at the tip of the tongue, and it keeps you from having to articulate (and therefore think about) what you’re actually trying to say. The knee-jerk parrot-squawking of “That’s unbiblical!” is a very easy way of avoiding any hard work or deep thought on various subjects. We need to be very clear on why we accept the arguments that we accept in our own theology, and why we reject the arguments of others. There needs to be a very consistent system behind this acceptance and rejection.
Have you given any thought to what system you’re using?
On the memorial of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
Deo omnis gloria!