Are “Bible Churches” Biblical?!

With a new election cycle now in its early stages, Jeffrey Tayler has observed:

Aspirants to the White House, both Democratic and Republican, have, as we all know, begun “announcing,” thus initiating, from a rationalist’s point of view, a media carnival featuring, on both sides, an array of supposedly God-fearing clowns and faith-mongering nitwits groveling before Evangelicals and nattering on about their belief in the Almighty and their certainty that if we just looked, we could find answers to many of our ills in the Good Book.

The “Good Book” in question is, of course, the (Christian) Bible, and the “clowns” to which Tayler was referring have been—and will be—appealing are those associated especially with so-called “Bible churches.”

The Bible is, of course, a “foundational” book for all Christian denominations, but the role it plays varies from denomination to denomination. For “Bible churches,” I will assert here—as a contrarian—the moniker “Bible churches” is highly inappropriate, for (a) in those churches there is a tendency for attention to be given to those passages in the Bible that appeal to the pre-existing prejudices of those who lead and attend them, so that (b) the “general thrust”1 of the Bible is given little or no recognition, and (c) “advancements” contained in the Bible over ideas and “commandments” of older vintage in that book are not recognized as such, and treated as on the same level as older passages—or are even ignored entirely! It is this last point that I want to emphasize in the present essay.

Let me begin here, however, by noting that the ostensible basis for “Bible churches” being such is this passage in II Timothy 3:16-17:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Among the problems with using this passage as one’s “foundation,” however, are these:

  • The “Scripture” referred to in the passage would, of necessity, have been the “Old Testament,” given that the “New Testament,” as we know it today, did not exist at the time of the book’s writing2 (believed to be “during the first half of the second century”).3
  • The claim in that passage that the “Scripture” in question (i.e., the “Old Testament”—what Jews refer to as the Tanakh) was “God-breathed” (i.e., inspired by God) cannot be substantiated.4

The principal point that I would like to make in this essay is one that is ostensibly paradoxical: The Bible gives us a basis for not using it as an authority!

Because those associated with “Bible churches” likely have both less education and intelligence than those who attend other Christian churches (and the unchurched), they are unlikely to be aware of the above fact. And Christians in the “other” category (along with the unchurched) are likely to be unaware of this fact for a different reason altogether: They tend to have little interest in the Bible, period!

The above facts suggest, then, this question: Who, then, is the intended audience for this essay?! And, I’m forced to admit, I am not at all certain what the answer to that question might be. Despite that fact, I’m going to proceed anyway, if you don’t mind!

Let me begin here by noting in John’s gospel references to an “Advocate”5 in 14:16, 14:26, 15:26, and 16:7. This “Advocate” is identified as the Holy Spirit in 14:26. The significance of this reference is that the writer of John is in effect telling us that just as God had guided Jesus‘s life, so is it possible that after Jesus’s departure, God—via the Holy Spirit—can guide our lives as well. Meaning, seemingly, that we should look to the Holy Spirit for guidance, in preference to the Bible—for the presence, now, of the Holy Spirit makes the Bible obsolete!

The significance of these references to the Advocate in John’s gospel should be recognized as the “bombshells” that they are. For they suggest, first, that one should not use the Bible as one’s primary authority—so that so-called “Bible churches” are, by their very nature, actually unBiblical! And they suggest, second, that no individual should be treated as an authority either (a point solidified in Matthew 23:8-10, wherein Jesus is made to say that one should call no one Father except our Father in Heaven). Rather, one should look to present-day revelation—something that the Quakers (i.e., members of the Society of Friends), for example, do.

With Paul of Tarsus an additional “dimension” of the Holy Spirit was added: One can not only look to the Holy Spirit for guidance (i.e., ideas as to what to do), but for “possession6—an idea, by the way, not absent from the “Old Testament.” For in I Samuel 10:6, e.g., we find (Samuel speaking to Saul): “The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.” (italics added)

Paul recognized (Romans 7) that although in his mind he knew what he should and should not do, what he called his “human nature” (what today we would more properly term his socialized nature) caused him to do what he abhorred, rather, and to refrain from doing what he wanted to do. He added, however, that (Chapter 8) if one is filled with the Holy Spirit (which, v. 6, results in “life and peace”), one will be able to overcome one’s “human nature”—one’s (supposedly) innate sinful nature. (Frans B. M. de Waal would disagree strongly!)

Also, in Galatians 5:16-25 Paul wrote at some length regarding the behavioral contrast between being controlled by “human nature” as opposed to the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, although Paul claimed to admire the Law (e.g., Romans 7:12 and 8:22), and Acts 22:3 has him claim that had studied under Gamaliel (a famous rabbi of the time), his letters give one no indication that he knew the first thing about the Law!

In the gospel of John, then, we in effect have the Holy Spirit substituted for Scripture; and in some of the (authentic) letters of Paul we have the Holy Spirit given an additional function (besides that of revelation), that of “possession”—which has the effect of enabling one to follow the “love of neighbor” command. Granted that neither the writer of John nor Paul gives us any indication of how one can access this Holy Spirit, but why haven’t those associated with the “Bible” churches been exploring this—leaving the matter to the Quakers alone, it seems?! And here I had been led to believe that they were “Bible-believers”!

  1. A term used in (p. 95) The Immoral Bible: Approaches to Biblical Ethics, by Eryl W. Davies (London: T & T Clark International, 2010). One person’s concept of that “general thrust” is not, of course, likely to correspond with another’s. For me, however, it is “you shall love your neighbor as yourself …” []
  2. In hisEaster letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave a list of the books that would become the twenty-seven-book NT canon, and he used the word “canonized” (Greek: κανονιζόμενα kanonizomena) in regards to them. The first council that accepted the present canon of the New Testament may have been the Synod of Hippo Regius in North Africa (AD 393); the acts of this council, however, are lost. A brief summary of the acts was read at and accepted by the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419.” []
  3. Burton L. Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth. Harper, San Francisco, 1995, p. 206. []
  4. Not only does it leave ambiguous the conception of the “God” being referred to, but merely assumes that that the Being involved—if, in fact, “God” is conceived as a Being!—exists “out there” somewhere. []
  5. In Greek, “paraclete,” translated as Helper, Comforter, etc., besides “advocate.” []
  6. For a brilliant discussion of relevance here see Stevan L. Davies, Jesus the Healer: Possession, Trance, and the Origins of Christianity. New York: Continuum, 1995. []
Al Thompson retired four years ago from an engineering (avionics) firm in Milwaukee. His e-mail address is: sven3475@gmail.com. Read other articles by Alton.