Tom, Dick and Teri are employed by a large corporation. Although each is a member of a different Protestant denomination, they meet in the lunchroom every day to encourage and pray for one another. Today is the Wednesday before the Thanksgiving holiday, and as Tom approaches the table with his meal of sliced turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce and the inevitable pumpkin pie, Teri looks up at him and shakes her head.
“I’m not getting through to him,” Teri announces to Tom.
Tom eyes Teri warily as he sets his tray down on the table. “What are you trying to get through to Dick?”
Teri takes a sip of her water. “The reason why our church doesn’t celebrate Christmas.”
“You don’t?” Tom asks as he lays his napkin in his lap. “Why in the world not?”
Teri throws Tom a “not you, too” look, and rolls her eyes. “It’s pretty obvious, Tom. Christians shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because there is no Biblical warrant for Christmas! Seriously, where do you see anybody in the Bible celebrating Christmas? Did Jesus command that we celebrate Christmas? Did the apostles tell their churches to celebrate Christmas? It’s completely unbiblical!”
Dick speaks up. “My church celebrates Christmas.”
“So does mine,” adds Tom as he slices his turkey into manageable bites.
“Well, you shouldn’t,” Teri emphasizes as she reaches for her water glass. “For religious commemorations or celebrations, we must have a Biblical command or precedent!”
Dick sniffs. Tom asks quietly, “Where does it say that in the Bible?”
Teri frowns. “It’s obvious, isn’t it?”
“Not to me,” Dick chimes in.
“Teri,” Tom remonstrates over his cooling turkey, “Your church engages in many practices that aren’t mentioned in the Bible.”
“That is NOT true,” Teri retorts heatedly. “Everything we do at our church is rooted in Scripture – everything!” Teri glares at Tom. “Pass the salt, please.”
Tom hands her the salt shaker. “Well,” Tom asks quietly, “does your church have Sunday School?”
“Of course!” Teri answers. “Why wouldn’t we?”
“Because nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to separate our children out during Sunday services and have adults other than their parents teach them the truths of the faith,” Tom tells her. “Right?”
Teri’s fork stops in mid-air, a glob of stuffing dangling from the tines, as she ponders this. “You’re right. The Bible tells parents to raise up children in the way in which they should go – no middleman, no Sunday School teacher.”
“Exactly,” Tom says as he scoops up his cranberry sauce. “That makes the concept of ‘Sunday School’ every bit as unbiblical as the idea of celebrating Christmas. Neither practice is mentioned in Scripture.”
Teri chews on this, and on her stuffing. “I’ll have to discuss this with my pastor – we shouldn’t be offering Sunday School.”
Tom looks alarmed. “Teri, that’s not where I was going with this! Sunday School is a perfectly acceptable practice. What’s not acceptable is using the Bible like cheesecloth to strain out every modern-day practice that wasn’t observed in Bible times.”
“Good one!” Dick burbles through a mouthful of green beans. “Cheesecloth!”
“Look,” Tom continues. “There are many, many modern-day Christian practices that are simply not found in Scripture; if we did away with them all, we wouldn’t have much left!” Teri frowns skeptically and lays down her fork as Tom enumerates.
“Altar calls, Teri – not in Scripture. Asking people to pray ‘the sinner’s prayer’ – not in Scripture. Nowhere does Scripture urge us to ‘invite Jesus into our heart as our personal Lord and Savior.’ The practice of ‘letting Scripture interpret Scripture’ – the Bible nowhere advises that. Even the request that people ‘bow their heads and close their eyes’ – it doesn’t come from the Bible! Are you going to do away with all that at your church?”
Teri shifts uncomfortably in her seat. “But there’s no harm in any of those things.”
“Exactly!” Dick points out. “And there’s no harm in celebrating the birth of the Savior! It’s a great evangelistic opportunity.”
“But, we know that the practice of celebrating Christmas comes from Catholicism,” Teri whispers to him, lest someone at one of the surrounding tables should hear her.
“And that’s what’s really bothering you, isn’t it?” Tom asks.
Dick jumps in. “Teri, practices don’t have to be mentioned explicitly in Scripture; doctrine DOES. Everything we believe must come straight from Scripture.”
Tom clears his throat. Both Dick and Teri peer at him suspiciously.
“Actually…” Tom begins, “I can think of several doctrines that all three of us adhere to which have no Scriptural backing.”
Teri looks aghast, and even Dick eyes Tom skeptically.
“Name one!” Dick challenges.
“I’ll give you two,” Tom retorts. “Number One: Nowhere does the Bible teach that Christians have to be monogamous.”
“What?” Teri exclaims, losing all interest in her pumpkin pie. “How ridiculous! Polygamy is wrong!”
“How do you know that, Teri?” Tom asks.
“Are you kidding?” Dick answers. “We all know that the New Testament forbids polygamy! Sure, some of the Old Testament patriarchs had multiple wives, but in the New Testament that all changed!”
“Chapter and verse, please,” Tom requests.
“Well, how about Paul’s instructions to Timothy that ‘an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife’?” Dick asks.
“What about it?” Tom answers. “That verse doesn’t say that polygamy is wrong; it just says that overseers must have one wife only. Every other man could have two, or three, or four….”
“That’s silly,” replies Teri sternly. “The Bible condemns the practice of polygamy!”
“Really?” Tom asks. “Then why does God say that He Himself gave King David his many wives? Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Elkanah the father of Samuel – many men in the Old Testament had multiple wives – men used by God. As far as I can tell they were never condemned for taking more than one wife.”
“Solomon’s many wives led him away from God!” Teri tells Tom.
“They led him away from God because they themselves worshiped other gods. If he had married only one heathen wife, that still might have happened. You can’t make a solid case against polygamy from the Old Testament, and Jesus never said anything one way or the other about it. You can believe what you like, but the Bible does not condemn polygamy! Even Martin Luther, who was personally opposed to polygamy, admitted that he couldn’t forbid a man to marry several wives, because he felt that this practice simply did not contradict Scripture.”
“It’s a moot point!” Dick points out. “Nobody’s advocating polygamy nowadays.”
Teri mutters something, and Dick asks her to speak up. “I said, there’s a church over in Martinsville that says polygamy should be made legal. I saw it on TV. I always thought it was just some kooky, unbiblical teaching….”
“Look, Teri, I’m not advocating polygamy!” Tom assures her. “I think it’s wrong just like you do. I’m simply pointing out that there’s no condemnation of polygamy in the New Testament, and the Old Testament seems to condone it. Yet most Christians would call polygamy ‘unbiblical.'”
“Well, I’ll remember that, Tom, when I get ready to start my harem,” Dick quips sarcastically.
Teri looks uncomfortable. “You said there was another doctrine that we all believe in that has no basis in Scripture.”
“That’s right,” Tom answers, “the belief that there will be no new revelation – you know, no new books of the Bible written like the Book of Mormon.”
Dick jumps on this with a chortle. “I’ve got you there! Revelation 22:18-19: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and the things which are written in this book.”
Tom raises an eyebrow as he wipes his mouth on his napkin. “Really? You know that when the Revelation was given to John, it wasn’t a part of the Bible. Christians had the Old Testament as their Bible – the New Testament was still a work in progress. The book of Revelation wasn’t officially acknowledged as Holy Scripture until the 4th century. When the angel said, ‘If any man shall add unto these things,’ what he meant was adding anything to the book of Revelation. That’s clearly forbidden. Adding new books to the Bible is not.”
Dick frowns. “But you know that Revelation was the last book of the Bible, so it means no more books can be added to the Bible!”
“That argument will backfire on you,” Tom assures his friend. “Because there’s a very similar verse, one that says, “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it.”
“But that’s my point!” Dick answers. “Again, the Bible says, don’t add to Scripture!”
“Not so fast!” Tom shoots back. “That verse is in the book of Deuteronomy. Remember, groups like the Sadducees believed that there were only 5 books in the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, with Deuteronomy being the last book. So they could make the same argument that you just made about the verse in Revelation: Deuteronomy is the last book in the Bible, so obviously this verse means don’t add any more books to the 5-book Bible!”
Dick sits quietly. Tom continues, “No, there actually is nothing in the Bible that tells us that the Bible consists of 66 books, that the 66 books that we’ve got in our Bible are the correct books, that none have been left out, or that there won’t be any new ones in the future. The Bible simply doesn’t address that issue.”
“Then how do we know there won’t be any more revelation, or that polygamy is wrong?” Dick wonders.
“The same way we know that it’s okay to celebrate Christmas,” Tom says quietly, looking at Teri. “The Catholic Church decided all those issues.”
Teri stands. “Do either of you have any Alka-Seltzer?” Both Tom and Dick shake their heads. “Remind me never to invite you over for dinner,” Teri says to Tom. “Talking to you always gives me indigestion.”
On the memorial of St. James Intercisus
Deo omnis gloria!