When Biblical is Wrong

by Rev. Jefferson Vann

Advent Christians have always been strong advocates for the authority and inspiration of the Bible. We believe that “Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”[1] so we strive to follow the Bible in everything we do. The Bible, for us, is God’s Word, and should not be nullified by human traditions,[2]  nor neglected even for good things like ministry to others.[3] We view it as a disgraceful thing to use the Word of God to our own benefit, distorting it so that it says what we want it to say.[4]  For those reasons, we Advent Christians have often sought to do things in a “biblical” way. We have sought after patterns of behavior and policy delineated in the Bible and have endeavored to follow those patterns.  We have judged our ministries and our personal lives based not on the question “is it appropriate” or “is it justified.” No, our mantra has been “is it biblical.”

In one sense, there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking to be biblical. We should all judge our actions on the basis of whether those actions are commanded in the Holy Scriptures. We should all reflect and “defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people.”[5]

But there is a sense in which modern evangelicals (Advent Christians not excluded) use the terms “biblical” and “unbiblical,” which has the potential to endanger our relationships with people and distort the gospel message. I refer to the tendency to brand some actions not described in the Bible as “unbiblical,” and others that are described in the Bible as “biblical.” But these tendencies are often accompanied by an even more dangerous one – the tendency to assume that some things merely described in the Bible are actually prescribed for all of us to follow today.

It is not too difficult to see how these tendencies can create modern-day Pharisees. People convinced that they are doing something biblically can become absolutely monstrous toward those whom they consider unbiblical. They can avoid fellowship with them, preach against them in their messages, and even criticize them in their theological journals.

So, how can we avoid the wrong kind of biblical, while seeking to stay biblical in the right sense? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Be careful to distinguish between the form that an action takes, and the function it seeks to perform. Doing something that the Bible commands in an unusual or different way is not being unbiblical. It is just being creative.
  2. Be careful to let the Holy Spirit do what the Bible says that he does. Often our self-imposed definitions of biblical ministry prohibit some people from doing certain things. The Bible consistently breaks those norms, because the Holy Spirit is free to gift anybody to do anything.
  3. Package your prescriptions carefully. Even some of the actual commands of Scripture were intended for temporary strategic purposes. For example, the early apostles commanded Gentile Christians to avoid animals that had been strangled.[6] There is no reason that command should be taught today as if it is a tenet of the faith. It was a command expected to be obeyed at that time, and in that culture, but it was only for that time and context. Feel free to disagree, but I believe the New Testament commands against female leadership in the church serve as another example of the same thing.

We do ourselves and the people who serve with us a disservice if we are more concerned about looking biblical than we are about obeying the Lord who gave us the Bible. He wants to move and operate among us, and often chooses to do it in ways that stretch our understanding of his will (as revealed in the Bible). May he grant us the wisdom to follow him closely, but not to idolize the structure and methods we use as if they are the message itself.

[1] 2 Timothy 3:16 NET.

[2] Matthew 15:6; Mark 7:13.

[3] Acts 6:2.

[4] 2 Corinthians 4:2.

[5] Jude 3 NLT.

[6] Acts15:20.

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