Sunday, September 20, 2015

Picking and Choosing: Bad With The Bible, Good With Tradition

On many occasions I rant about those who cherry pick from the Bible, picking which verses they believe (which oddly enough tend to reinforce their presuppositions) and which verses they reject. The practice of treating the Bible like a buffet line, not to be confused with reading the Bible in a literary sense, interpreting different sorts of books of the Bible as they are intended, has given us all sorts of screwball theology. When people start waffling about Paul or the Creation account or the miracles of the Bible or the timelessness and applicability of Biblical ethics, it starts the warning bells ringing in my mind. The Bible is a seamless work and even the most obscure passages are and were preserved for a reason, even if we don't understand that reason or like what the passages has to say to our contemporary ears.

Traditions on the other hand are a different matter. Outside of Rome and the Orthodox faiths, it is generally understood that tradition is not in the same universe as the Bible. While many groups put forth their traditions as an all-or-nothing matter and will withhold full fellowship to those that don't take the whole shebang, I have no qualms about examining the traditions of a stream of the faith, comparing them to the Bible, adopting those that match up and are profitable and jettisoning those that are not. This practice has led to a definite sense of being outside the camp with many groups over the years but I am just not cut out to swallow every tradition of man when so many of them are not Biblical and in some cases are counter to the teaching of Scripture. I find nothing terribly noble about "I was born in a Baptist family and I'll die a Baptist".

I came to faith in a Southern Baptist church in the small Kentucky town we lived in for a short while, a place where we renounced mormonism and came to saving faith in Christ. For a number of years, through moves and new churches we stayed with that tradition. Along the way I came across Founders Ministries, my first introduction to Calvinism. This was in the early days of Reformed theology taking hold in the SBC and the beginning of battle lines being drawn between the more traditional SBC leaders who espoused a more "free will" theology and those who followed the Doctrines of Grace. After a number of years in the Baptist tradition and a jarring exposure to some of the megalomania that can infect church leaders, we moved on. I carried with me the Baptist love and devotion for Scripture, believers baptism and of course the controversial elements of Reformed theology, something I both understand far better and hold to more firmly than ever.

We found ourselves in the East Lansing area of Michigan and there we found fellowship with a group of "Plymouth Brethren" and more pleasant people and genuine brotherhood you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else. We had our first exposure to the practice of headcovering (something that we came to beforehand and was instrumental in seeking out this sort of fellowship) as well as the more open and participatory meeting style that provided the opportunity for every brother to share a teaching or a song. Those times were wonderful in spite of the constant specter of dispensationalism which I have no use for whatsoever.

Eventually we moved to Indiana and we have had something of a tough time here. Taking the Plymouth Brethren (fairly) open meeting to the next level I became convinced that simple, house church was the way to go. I also found a fascination for the Anabaptists, driven by books like Dave Black's The Jesus Paradigm and living among a diverse population of Anabaptists. We have had zero luck finding a simple church setting that meets in a home that was also orthodox in theology. On the other hand we have had a similarly frustrating experience trying to acclimate to conservative Anabaptist groups.

Through this journey I have had the opportunity more often than not to be an outsider looking in. We don't naturally or by heritage claim any tradition as our own so I found myself comparing specifics of different traditions and keeping what matches what the Bible teaches and leaving behind what it doesn't. In general I would have to say that while the transitions have been hard on me and on my family, the exposure to different traditions has been beneficial. Through it all I have sincerely tried to hold fast to the Word and His Word and tried to not compromise for the sake of "fitting in". I don't see any benefit or Scriptural warrant to wear a "plain" Mennonite coat, so I don't even though a lot of other brothers do. I don't see a necessary linkage between the five points of Calvinism and the Reformed subculture that surrounds it so I keep the former and toss the latter.

I think we would all do well to think beyond our denominational and traditional boundaries to see what the rest of the church does and also to examine those traditions against Scripture afresh. If our traditions can't hold up to scrutiny, they really aren't worth clinging to. Regardless, we ought to feel free and even encouraged to pick and choose from  the dozens of traditions of the church but we ought never feel that we can do the same with the Bible.

1 comment:

Blog Editor: said...

Paul makes it perfectly clear how to deal with those who cause divisions and lure people into the trap of their denominations:

17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on (Mark those) those who cause "dichostasia" (divisions and dissensions) and "skandalon" (A stick for bait - of a trap, generally a snare, a stumbling block, a hindrance, an offense)contrary to the teaching which you have already learned, and TURN AWAY FROM THEM. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.

Denominations are what they are, and those who lead them will give account to the God of peace who has NO tolerance for the works of Satan that are dividing Christ's Ekklesia and causing an obstacle to the gospel.

You can pander to them for all the "good works" they do, or accept them as some sort of religious expedience; but do so at your own risk.

Do Paul's words and warnings mean anything?