My Thoughts. . .
The slogan that is sometimes stated is, “Religious division would disappear if everyone would FOLLOW ONLY THE BIBLE.” That slogan is contradicted when one attempts to replace first century commands, based upon their culture, with twenty-first century substitutions. Did God give commands that were integrated with the culture of the first century?
In the New Testament some of the saved were slaves. Paul stated, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither BOND nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28). Paul gave instructions to Christian slave owners as well as Christian slaves on the kind of conduct they should practice with one another (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22-4:1). These instructions did not abolish slavery. In fact, the New Testament does not condemn the practice, it only regulates it. That regulation would lead to future reform. Some have attempted to remove the negativism from that teaching by substituting “employee” for “slave” and “employer” for “master.” Changing the Bible’s wording negates the truthfulness of the slogan’s “follow only the Bible.”
The first century church was told to deal with relationships rather than the practice. God added to the saved those who were slave owners and slaves. He adds folks to that same saved body today who are repulsed by that first and nineteenth century slave culture. Rather than deny it happened, God wants us to accept it as a fact of man’s weakness and develop our faith through lessons taught about that human weakness.
Some cultural actions are more acceptable that are included in a “thus saith the Lord.” However we do not accept every aspect of that previous culture. For example, Isaac=s wife was selected, not by Isaac, but by his father=s slave. Isaac had never met her, nor did he know her. Isaac first saw her when she and the slave arrived. Even then she wore a veil covering her facial features. They did not date because that cultural practice was unacceptable in that society. There was no engagement period, no purchase of a marriage license, no clergy to say the marriage vows, and no Western style marriage ceremony. After dismounting from her animal, scripture states that “Isaac brought her into the tent, and she became his wife” (Genesis 24:67). Today two people are not introduced and immediately head for privacy to live happily ever after. Yet, Isaac and Rebekah=s marriage was just as binding in their culture as our marriage is in ours. However, can you imagine our parents choosing our lifetime mate without consulting us and one day introducing that person to us? David and Solomon had multiple wives in their culture. However, although acceptable in their time, would any Christian woman today wish to be one among many wives sharing the same husband?
When Paul was with Gentiles, he became a Gentile. When he was with Jews, he became a Jew. From one culture to another, he conformed to that culture to win his audience (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). This caused a problem in the first century when Jewish brethren wanted to bind their scripturally commanded circumcision on Gentile converts. When these differences appeared between Gentile and Jewish brethren it was dealt with by Paul in Romans 13 and other letters. The Bible student will find some cultural actions followed by the first century church which today=s assemblies refuse to observe. They are considered either antiquated or frowned upon by today=s society. Yet they are part of scripture which our society refuses to follow. That refusal negates the slogan, “follow only the Bible.”
Attempting to separate the “thus saith the Lord” from cultural practices of the early church have produced some negative results. When praying, men are commanded to lift “up holy hands.” However, today most do not do so (1 Timothy 2:8). Is that refusal because that command is a cultural action? If it is a biblical command, would we not be guilty of disobedience if we do not comply within that stated context? When we refuse to practice it, what passage do we cite which gives us that specific privilege? Was the “fruit of the vine” which was used in the Lord’s supper Welch’s Grape Juice or wine? Would Welch’s cause anyone to get drunk by drinking too much of it? Is enough bread consumed that no one leaves the assembly hungry (1 Corinthians 11:20-21)? Why do we rush to Cracker Barrel when the last “Amen” is said? Is it not because we are hungry, and Cracker Barrel will eliminate what was supposed to be supplied by the church when we partook of the Lord’s supper?
Substitutions are made and continue even though Scripture does not spell it out. The justification for those substitutions is varied and God is expected to add our human judgments to supplement His divine will. Humans do not always agree when offering solutions. Man in his fallibility often produces the negative which can produce division. Each division usually justifies its actions as scriptural.
That slogan is contradicted when one attempts to replace first century commands based upon their culture with twenty-first century substitutions. When those substitutions are made, we are no longer “FOLLOWING ONLY THE BIBLE.”