7 things the Church pretends are biblical

I often joke about our church 'traditions' by saying they are found in the book of Hezekiah. I’ll quote a chapter and verse and ask people to look it up later. It's difficult to find when there’s no book of Hezekiah to begin with.

My point — we hold on to many traditions (or preferences) as if they’re founded in Scripture, when in reality, they really aren’t. Have you noticed how the Church does this?

I’m sure there are more than seven, but let me start off by sharing them.

1. Worship music

If there’s something that has caused much trouble in church congregations, it’s worship music. If you’re a part of a church that doesn’t over-emphasize music, you’ve been blessed to avoid the battle, but if music is an expression of worship at all, so often are the disagreements.

Worship choruses and hymns can have powerful lyrics and melodies that can honestly help us submit our hearts to God. Unfortunately, we often let music styles dictate if we’ll accept or reject a particular song. The contemporary voice rejects the traditional; the traditional voice rejects the contemporary.

One of the closest biblical descriptions we have of our modern-day worship is found in Ephesians 5:19-21:

[Address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God, the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

That sounds like a call to unity, not dissension.  We need to realize our musical preferences aren’t biblical in nature, but traditional.

2. Service times

The Early Church started meeting on Sundays as a celebration of the resurrected Messiah. Fast forward to today, and many meet together Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and often another time for Sunday School.

A friend of mine held their services Sunday afternoon at 2pm because that’s when they made the biggest impact in the community.

The church service time we prefer and how many times a day we go, aren’t specifically mentioned in Scripture. For that matter, Sunday itself really isn’t mandated. The Seventh Day Adventist Church gathers on Saturdays (the true Sabbath).

Many choose to attend only one service a Sunday. In our context, we have parishioners who live 40 minutes away from our building. I don’t blame them for only attending one service. We are more excited that they found a place to belong, then trying to figure out how to get them to attend more services. Especially if it isn’t biblical to do so.  This, of course, isn’t a reason for apathy.

3. Service “liturgy”

While some components of a Christian service are actually quite biblical (i.e., Holy Communion and The Lord’s Prayer), and the mainline denominations often base their liturgy on Scripture, the actual service format (beginning to end) is really church-made.

There are no biblical references mandating an ‘order of service’.

If there are ever disagreements among church members, it isn’t whether or not the wording of a service was incorrect. What people often protect is their “order of service” – what happens, when it happens, and how it happens. We have no biblical sources for order or format.

4. Bible translations

The Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek, not English. The English translation didn’t begin until the late 1300s by John Wycliffe, and furthered by William Tyndale in the early-mid 1500s and many others. History credits Tyndale for being the first to translate the New Testament from Greek to English.

Many view the King James Version (KJV) as the ‘original’ Bible. Truth be told, the KJV was the first politically ‘approved’ translation, which wasn’t translated until 1611. Nearly 100 years after Tyndale, and 200 years after Wycliffe.

As time progresses, so does our understanding of the original languages. Biblical truth never changes, but as we translate and learn the original languages, our English translations will evolve.

In recent years, we’ve found new sources like the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947-56) that included manuscripts that predate many of the texts we had at the time. Even in 2017, new discoveries have helped in the understanding of these manuscripts. We are always learning more about the original language and culture of the time.

Yes, there is only one true Bible, but it would be an error to think there is only one valid English translation. With great respect to the text, we have to study the Word of God as scholars continue to study the original texts.

5. Ministry models

It’s been long understood that once your church grows to the point of hiring a second pastor that a youth pastor is of top priority. In turn, a Children’s pastor, Assistant pastor…and the list goes on.

What fuels that? Our idea that our ministry model works the same everywhere. What if there are no youth in the community, does that still make sense?  What if the community is full of youth?  When youth are longing to belong, maybe smaller youth cell groups will work best.

The fact is, the Bible doesn’t define the best ministry model.  The Bible helps us understand what the model should accomplish (i.e., helping those in need), but the actual model isn’t shared with us.

Why not? I think it’s because every context is a little unique.  Yes, we have similarities, but mega-church models will work in some settings, while smaller intimate models will work in other settings.  Adopting to the subtle differences in cultures is vital to success.

The Bible doesn’t define a ministry model, so we must allow mission, not our tradition, to dictate it.

6. Dress code

“Every believer must wear ‘Sunday best’ to church each week” (Hezekiah 19:11).  While you go look that up, the rest of us will actually read what scripture says about dress code.  Here’s one my favorite passages on the topic:

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)

The message we have from scripture is simply to gather together as believers as you are able.  Some people will dress formally, others casually, but all are holy in Christ.

Another biblical dress code reference concerns modesty (1 Timothy 2:9-10).  The issue is about holiness and how we express that outwardly by what we choose to wear.

Dress as you feel comfortable — and for any believer, the Spirit should make you uncomfortable if modesty is an issue.

Either way, our typical formal dress code is traditional and not biblical.

7. Denominations and church governance

To some degree, we see the Early Church strategically organize themselves with leadership.  A good example would be when they choose seven to oversee some of the ministry.  They had to see past their current system because they were growing in numbers (Acts 6:1-7).

When it comes to denominational constitutions, bi-laws and polity, however, we begin to engage ourselves in practical and functional methods of organization – with little to no biblical precedent. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing.

If proper biblical accountability measures are in place to keep governance in check, denominational structure is often highly effective – helping us use biblical principles for the Kingdom!  If accountability measures aren’t used – it can become highly political and can derail authentic ministry fairly quickly.

In my opinion, the potential good outweighs the bad. The process of sharing resources, joining forces, showing unity, and the power of encouragement within the body, all outweigh the negative.

Final thoughts

Just because something is traditional and not necessarily biblical, doesn’t make it sinful. In fact, there are many traditions that are good and helpful. The issue is when we allow our tradition to trump our mission. If our tradition is most important, the Church’s mission will always take a back seat.

What is the Church’s mission? To reach those who don’t know Jesus.

It’s pretty simple. But if, at any time, our tradition stops people from finding Jesus, then we need to adjust it for the sake of the Kingdom.

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About the author

ChristianWeek Columnist

Andrew lives in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland with his wife, Deidre, and daughter, Rae, where he is the Lead Pastor of Bethel Pentecostal Church. He is a graduate of Memorial University (BBA) and Tyndale Seminary (MTS). His passion is to help people become true disciples of Jesus.

About the author