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Posts Tagged ‘Bible emphasis’

“How many times does the Bible mention abortion?”

That was the question my philosophy teacher asked more than 40 years ago at the Christian college I attended.

His answer?

“Zero.”

That startled me.

I had been told by Christian leaders that the practice of abortion … which had just been sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade around the time I took that class in Ethics … was wrong.  So I assumed that somehow … somewhere … the Bible soundly condemned abortion.

But it never does.

This doesn’t mean that abortion is good and right.  But it does mean that we can’t just quote one or two verses condemning the practice, either.  Those verses aren’t there.

I bring this up because I’m always amazed … and sometimes amused … by the fact that some Christians make a big deal out of beliefs and practices that the Bible says little or nothing about.

In fact, some act like because they emphasize a certain doctrine … or a specific practice … that they are enlightened while you are not.

Let me give you some examples.

When I grew up, there were churches that proudly used the following slogan:

WE BELIEVE IN THE BOOK, THE BLOOD, AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH.

I believe in the authority of Scripture … the atoning work of Christ … and the fact that the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus as well.  All three doctrines are taught in the Bible.

But the weight of Scripture lies with the first two … and not necessarily with the virgin birth.

The virgin birth of Christ is mentioned in just three places in Scripture: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18-25; and Luke 1:26-45.  There are allusions to it in other places (Galatians 4:4) but 25 books of the New Testament never mention it directly.  The virgin birth is true … it’s a biblical doctrine … and it has its place in Scripture and theology … but does that justify a church using a slogan like WE BELIEVE IN THE VIRGIN BIRTH when they could have put so many other beliefs in its place?

By contrast, the second coming of Christ is emphasized much more in the New Testament … more than 300 times!

Let’s look at another issue: speaking in tongues.

Tongue-speaking is mentioned in only three books of the New Testament, and is missing from the other 24.  I have a theory as to why that’s the case, but let’s let that slide right now.

Tongue-speaking is mentioned in Mark 16:17 (the famous extended ending of Mark) but the practice is grouped with picking up snakes with hands and drinking deadly poison, so it’s possible … even likely … that Mark’s ending is not genuine.

Tongue-speaking is also mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10, 28, 30; 13:1, 8; and chapter 14, where the practice is dealt with extensively.

Tongue-speaking is also mentioned in the Book of Acts, but it’s not nearly as prevalent as one might think.

Acts covers a 30-year period, yet speaking in tongues is only mentioned three times (at Pentecost: Acts 2:3-13; in Cornelius’ house: Acts 10:44-48; at Ephesus: Acts 19:1-7).  Although it’s not mentioned explicitly, tongue-speaking probably occurred in Samaria in Acts 8:14-17 as well.

I believe that the tongue-speaking in Acts is always connected to a new advance of the gospel among a different people group.

In Acts 2, the gospel came to the Jews; in Acts 8, to the Samaritans (half-Jew, half-Gentiles); in Acts 10, to the Gentiles; and in Acts 19, to the intertestamental saints (disciples of John the Baptist).  The evidence that the Holy Spirit had come to each group was that new converts supernaturally and spontaneously spoke in tongues.

So over thirty years of history, there are only three explicit references to tongue-speaking in Acts … an average of one incident every ten years.  And yet some pastors and churches build their whole ministry around a practice that is absent from 88% of the books of the New Testament and that only occurred in Acts on three occasions over three decades.

While I’m at it, let me mention one more practice: raising hands during worship.

The Old Testament mentions raising hands in praise (Psalm 63:4; 134:2) and raising hands in prayer (Ezra 9:5; Psalm 28:2; 141:2; Lam 2:19) a few times.  The emphasis doesn’t seem to be on connecting with God or feeling something during worship but with demonstrating to God and to the worshiper that one’s hands … and by implication, soul … are clean before God during worship.

By contrast, how many times do you think the New Testament mentions lifting hands during worship?

There isn’t a single reference in the New Testament to lifting hands in praise.  Based on the prevalence of this practice in our day, do you find this surprising?

But there is one reference to lifting hands in prayer in 1 Timothy 2:8:

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or dissension.

I have no problem with people raising their hands while singing to the Lord … although some can be distracting and even annoying at times … but when is the last time you saw men (not women) encouraged to lift their hands during public prayer?  And yet that’s exactly what Paul tells Timothy he wants done during public worship.

The weight of Scripture is that lifting hands during worship applies more to prayer than to praise … so why do we emphasize one practice but not the other?

I want to be a biblical Christian, and I assume that you want to be one as well.  For that to occur:

First, we need to pay attention to the number of times Scripture emphasizes a belief or a practice.

Scripture mentions but never emphasizes practices like drinking poison, handling snakes, and baptism for the dead.  I think it’s silly to engage in these practices on a regular basis, or even to build an entire movement around them, but that’s what some have done over the past twenty centuries.

Think about some of your favorite theological hobby horses.  How much does the Bible really say about them?

In some churches, the altar call has become a third sacrament … yet you’ll never find the practice in Scripture.  Or what about the practice of holy laughter that was all the rage not too many years ago?  Or how about the practice of “slaying in the Spirit” (the phrase is never used in Scripture) that so many Christians believe in yet which has virtually no biblical support?  (My daughter once attended a church where her peers were called to the front and then fell over in the Spirit.  When the “prophet” tried to knock my daughter over, she resisted and never went down … and left the church soon afterward.)

Second, we need to emphasize what Scripture emphasizes. 

The Bible mentions prayer … obedience … living a holy life … trusting God … sharing Christ with others … worshiping God … and loving others time after time after time.

These are the kinds of practices that God wants us to build our churches and our lives around.

Sometimes I think that Christians emphasize beliefs and practices that Scripture never mentions because they don’t feel they’re doing a very good job of emphasizing what God emphasizes.

Finally, we may need to rethink some of our beliefs and practices if they aren’t emphasized in Scripture.

Nearly nine years ago, my son and I took a vacation together to the Southern part of the United States.  I had never been to states like Arkansas, the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, and I wanted to say I had at least been to those places.

One Sunday, we found ourselves attending a church on Music Row in Nashville, Tennessee.  The church sang for 42 minutes (yes, I remember details like that), and during the songs, people from the congregation walked to the front, chose a flag from a bin, and while standing between the stage and the pews, waved those flags during the singing time.

I thought the practice was a little odd, so when I got home, I went online and read that some churches engage in a “Banner Ministry.”  I thought the biblical support for the practice was weak, and I still think the whole thing has more to do with pageantry than worship, but I’m not here to say it’s wrong … just not very important.  (I’m still looking for the New Testament verse on the topic … and yes, I know the NT doesn’t mention pews, pulpits, microphones, or video players either.)

There’s much more I can say on this issue of emphasizing what Scripture does, but for now, I’d like to hear from you.

What do you think about what I’ve written?

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