There was a Body before there was a Christian “Bible.” This is a threatening fact for many. It is none-the-less, an indisputable historical fact. The implications can, and have been, argued for centuries, but the fact cannot be.
The body of Christ is the result of Jesus’s life, death, resurrection, Spirit-outpouring, and Spirit-indwelling: the new creation. The Bible is the product of the Holy Spirit working in and through the body/church. In a historical sense, not a metaphysical one (the Church is eternal, as is the Logos), there was a community before there were writings. The writings came out of the experience of the community and the need to objectively capture the transmission of the apostolic proclamation of Christ, for future generations.
I am thankful for my heritage. By the grace of God, I have been devoted to Jesus as revealed in the scriptures for 40 years. To the best of my ability, I have given my life to the disciplined study, honest exegesis, and honorable application of the scriptures. I am not anti-scripture. I am anti-ignorance and anti-nonsense.
However, knowledge and love must always go together. Love must be informed by accurate knowledge, and knowledge must be infused by, and expressed in, love. We must honestly admit that the Protestant Evangelical passion for the scripture (which I share) is not without some inherent difficulties and risks.[i]
Respect for, or Worship of The Bible?
While I am thankful for the “plus side” of what came out of the Reformation, there are some downsides as well. Bypassing for now the egregious misbehavior associated with some of the personalities involved in the Reformation, there is yet another downside consequence which is more contemporaneous. It’s the risk of bibliolatry: the worship of the Bible. Evangelicals and Fundamentalists would vehemently deny that this is an issue in their spheres, but it is a very present and serious issue.
For the majority of Evangelical Christianity the essence of our faith is presented as a set of propositional truths about Jesus, to which the unbelieving world must agree, or “go to hell.” “The Bible says” a lot of things. Understanding and applying what it says is always the issue. As Dr. Gordon Fee has succinctly said: “It’s all hermeneutics.”
I suggest, as did A. W. Tozer, that the specter of bibliolatry is always uncomfortably close at hand. Tozer called it the “tyranny of the scribe” and “textualism from which the human mind revolts.” [viii]Tozer is not alone. Paul Tournier described the real essence of Christianity as: “. . . the building of a new civilization in which the spirit of Christ will be in the inner source of personal, family, social, and individual conduct.”[ix]
Peter Leithart says it like this:
Christian community . . . is not an extra religious layer on social life. The church is not a club for religious people. The church is a new way of living together before God, a new way of being human together. What Jesus and the apostles proclaimed was not a new ideology or a new religion, in our attenuated modern sense. What they proclaimed was salvation, and that meant a new human world, a new social and political reality . . . Conversion thus means turning from one way of life, one culture to another . . . it is the beginning of a re-socialization . . . In the New Testament we do not find an essentially private gospel being applied to the public sphere, as if . . . it were a second story built on a private ground floor. The gospel IS the announcement of the Father’s formation, through His Son and the Spirit, of a new city—the city of God.[x]
Paul’s gospel had an empirical test built into it; if no one was transformed, then the message that announced the transformation could not possibly be true. The first and chief defense of the gospel, the first letter of commendation not only for Paul but for Jesus, is not an argument, but the life of the Church, conformed to Christ by the Spirit in service and suffering. A community of sinners whose corporate life resembles Christ –that is the Church’s first apologetic. The very existence of such a “city” is our main argument.[xi]
Truth Has a Body
The scriptures declare that the world is not waiting to be persuaded from the Bible.[ii] The world does not care about our “Bible” and our opinions about it. The scriptures tell us that the unbelieving world has a right to “taste” of us,[iii] to savor us,[iv] to see if the aroma of Christ[v] is present or not. The world is waiting to see a quality of life manifested on earth.[vi] The scriptures exist to reveal Jesus Christ for who He is, and to serve these ends. If we master the content of the scripture and have no savor or aroma of Christ, we are like a man holding a legitimate ticket, but who has missed his boat. It doesn’t matter how factual your ticket is, how everything on that ticket is true, how well you can explain the ticket, and defend its veracity. It exists to serve a purpose and you have missed it.
Truth has always had a Body.[vii] All Christian truth is incarnational (embodied). The correct apprehension of biblical facts is not the same as possessing the life of Christ. It’s possible to flawlessly explain Paul’s theology and possess none of his life. The church, the ekklesia, is supposed to be the pillar and ground of all truth. That does not mean it is to a library for the accumulation of scriptural knowledge. It means that in the Body, Jesus is to be seen.
Coffee and Charcoal
Without beans you cannot have a cup of coffee, but with just beans you still don’t have coffee! You have the potential for coffee. Disciplined study of scripture is like a cup of beans: necessary, but not the end of the matter. Scripture study is like charcoal. Without it, you won’t have a barbecue. But just having charcoal is not enough for a barbecue. The potential for heat and light that is in the charcoal must be ignited. It is our being knit together in love that turns beans to coffee and charcoal to heat and light.
Paul makes it clear in Colossians 2:2-3 that the unfolding of all the mysteries of God, the deep insights into His Person, plan and purpose, is not just a result of receiving the “preached word,” but is directly linked to our joining together in love (emphasis mine):
That their hearts might be knit together in love and UNTO all riches of the full assurance ofunderstanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Bible study can be intellectually intoxicating and lacking social context. Living well together in Christ is crucifying. There is more to our faith than the accumulation of teachings and a pursuit of “deeper understanding,” erroneously often called “revelations.” I am not interested in novelty for novelty’s sake. I am not introduced in esoteric speculations from the scripture. I would like to live well in the sure things from scripture that I already understand. Mark Twain once said that he was not so much bothered by what he did not understand about the Bible, but by what he did understand! Me too.
Regardless of how right we might be on a point of doctrine, or how “anointed” the meeting is, or how “cutting edge” our insight is, we are worthless[xii] to God and humanity if these things do not ultimately lead to transformation of our lives before God and humanity. There is a love that surpasses knowledge.[xiii] There is a power that surpasses what the natural can produce.[xiv] There is a service that transcends human sympathy.[xv] These things are neither difficult nor complicated. They do not require argumentative (and often endless) explanation. They require expression. For the world:
We are the message.
We are the argument.
We are the apologetic.
Jesus said: By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. This is to be the outcome of our commitment to scripture. We are the One Loaf the unbelieving world is permitted to “bite into” to taste and see if God is good . . . or not. [xvi] If our commitment to scripture does not result in an appropriate taste, our ship has sailed without us.
Addendum 9/20/2016 Challenges to this Teaching Q & A by Jose Bosque
The comments below were taken from responses to our teaching. We as the Body of Christ have a problem. The Lord said he would send another “the Holy Spirit” not the bible. We should not have any problem with what the scripture says but with all the human interpretations to control the people of God and to attempt to authenticate the religious system (a false anti-Christ system) that calls itself the church today we have veered off course. If the Church was not in trouble; with thousands of divisions, a huge exodus, leadership failures and few if any real disciples we would have nothing to say. Let’s quit making excuses and get out of La La land by confronting where we are going wrong.
- Statement: This kind of teaching destabilizes the faith of young believers and causes them to doubt.
Answer: Maybe it’s well that new believers be confronted with such error at an early stage in their Christian walk so they can learn to hear the Lord (the Holy Spirit) instead of having such an unhealthy dependence on the bible.
2. Statement: and I quote “I thought we hear God through His Word and because of it?”
Answer: NO>>>We are not saying that the Lord can’t speak through the bible. We are saying that His Word comes through His Spirit and many have replaced the Bible for a word from the Lord.
3. Statement: and I quote “I would rather err on the side of reading too much of His word than deprive myself of the words of Eternal Life”
Answer: Peter said the Lord had the words of eternal life not the bible. The problem is mans interpretation and mans traditions of what the bible says have today replaced what the Holy Spirit says to the Body of Christ.
Are you noticing the subtle differences? These are good “church-going” folks saying these things.
4. Statement; I don’t teach people to worship the bible. I don’t teach the bible is the 4th person of the Trinity and I don’t teach that the bible should replace the Holy Spirit on earth today.
When we are teaching disciples what we teach in our practical methodology (what we do) will always override our verbal theology (what we say we believe).
Here is a case and point. When an entire meeting is a build-up and focuses on the Sunday sermon you have Christians saying such ignorance like “I came to church to get a Word from God” in reference to the sermon. The sermon from the pastor has become the Word to them! Maybe this is not the theology but certainly it is the practice.
Here is a statement from another article;
Christians are to feed daily on His Rhema not on Bible verses and Sermons
Let me just quote a couple (there are more) bible verses that has been misquoted for years and has mislead many to prove what I am about to say. Millions of tracts and bibles have been printed and distributed based on just these verses;
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Rom 10:17 NKJV
As a normal every week modern church goer if you were asked “What is the word of God in this verse?” you would respond “the Bible” Well, guess what – it isn’t the bible! It’s the Greek word RHEMA which means a fresh word from God. RHEMA is what the Lord is saying to us through the Holy Spirit. This word RHEMA is what guides and directs His children daily. This daily communication is the basis of our intimate relationship with God. It’s what kept the church going for the first 1500 years and what allows true Christians to walk with God today. The Greek word used for the scripture/the bible is only found twice in the entire New Testament. Today when people talk about a “Word from God” they are talking about a sermon or a bible verse. The early saints had a personal 24/7 relationship with Christ the LOGOS so when they heard a RHEMA in their Spirit they obeyed it. The religious system has created a Christianity that cannot exist without the system. If Christians are taught to relate to God themselves instead of getting their truth through a mediator once a week the religious system of men would come tumbling down and Christian maturity would multiply.
Want another bible verse that has been misquoted? Believe me there are many. You heard said that as Christians we are to put on the full armor of God from Ephesians 6;
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; Eph 6:17 NKJV
You can die saying the Sword of the Spirit is the Bible but you would be wrong. It’s RHEMA! I remember being asked by my pastors and teachers”Are you carrying your sword today?” in reference t me carrying my bible.
Are you aware that more than 95% of people in the 1st century could not read or write? Are you aware that books (including the Bible) did not get into a commoners hands till after the 1500’s. So if people could not read and write and most of the church including its leaders were poor and at the bottom of society how did the church exist without bible verses to quote? There were no seminaries until the Catholic Church built the first one in 1567. How were leaders trained for the first 1500 years of the Church? These are some good questions to ponder.
Memorize all the bible verses you want but if you haven’t received a fresh word from the Lord you don’t have your full armor on. In the Spanish world they leave an open bible in the house to ward off evil spirits. The devil laughs at goofiness like that. My brother’s house is full of wooden crosses in the design and the floor planks are lined underneath with pages from the bible so the preacher who built it could “walk on the word”. None of that helped him when he got caught in adultery with his secretary and lost his home, wife, family and his ministry.
If you agree with me that the number one need of the Church today is we need disciples. Lets make them the way the Church did for the first 1500 years. You don’t make them pointing them to the bible you make them pointing them to a Person and to relationship with Christ their Lord and Savior.
[i] Not the least of which is: “Who reforms the Reformers?” Every group thinks they have the last word from God – a fundamentally intoxicating proposition.
[ii] Rom. 8:19.
[iii] Ps. 34:8.
[iv] Matt. 5:13.
[v] 2 Cor. 2:16.
[vi] Rom. 8:19, 2 Cor. 4:10-11.
[vii] John 5:39-42, John 14:6, 1 John 1: 1-3.
[viii] A. W. Tozer, Keys to the Deeper Life, 1957.
[ix] Paul Tournier. The Healing of Persons. New York: Harper and Row, 1965, 42.
[x] Peter Leithart. Against Christianity. Moscow: Canon Press, 2003, 16.
[xi] Ibid., 99-100.
[xii] In the sense of utility for kingdom purpose, not in the sense of His affections.
[xiii] Eph. 3:19.
[xiv] Heb. 6:5.
[xv] Heb. 10:24.
[xvi] Matt 5:16; James 2:18, 20, 26. It is my understanding that the justifying works of James are not in conflict with Paul. The works James refers to are the works before humanity, not God. These works “justify” us in the eyes and ears of the world, and earn us a right to be listened to (e.g. Matt 5:16). Our behaviors will always speak more loudly than our philosophies: “See how they love one another.”
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