I was reading an article in a Christian magazine recently, and in the middle of the article, the author attempted to support his point with a bulleted list of reasons why he was right. I cringed a bit when I read the first reason: “It’s commanded in the Bible.”
Now I’m not here to suggest that Biblical commands aren’t justification enough for doing something for Christians. What I am here to suggest is that they are no justification at all for doing something if you don’t believe the Bible. Furthermore, in an increasingly post-modern age where the Bible is looked at less as a set of commands and more as a narrative, it is likely to become more and more difficult to extract command out of the narrative as opposed to example and principle.
What does it say about our subculture that ultimately the best reason we can give for doing something is that we feel (legitimately or not) that it is commanded in the Bible? As I listen to arguments about women’s roles and instrumental music and baptism, again and again the top sheet reason given by the opposition in each of these cases is that “It’s commanded in the Bible.” As my good friend Jeremy Hegi recently said, “When someone stands up and stridently says, ‘The Bible clearly teaches …’, that’s when red flags should start to go up.'”
In reality, a biblical command argument will only be accepted if the following two conditions are met: 1) you believe the Bible and 2) you agree with the arguments interpretation of what the Bible says. A perfectly good example of this is regarding the women’s roles issue. “Women are commanded in the Bible to be silent,” one group would say, “therefore they should not be allowed to lead prayers during church services.” The response, “Fine. Make them be silent. Don’t let them talk or sing or make any noise for the duration of the service.” “But that’s not what the Bible says!”, comes the protest in reply. “Ah contraire, that is *exactly* what the Bible says.” “But that’s not what the Bible means!” At this point, however, we are no longer in a discussion about what the Bible *says* in 1 Timothy 2, but rather how we interpret what the Bible says – which is really the core issue of citing Biblical command as a compulsion for action, even among Christians.
Consider, for a moment, what alternatives might reach people outside our own way of thinking, and indeed outside the Christian subculture altogether. Consider whether reason is the arena and argument the commodity that will succeed in a landscape less and less often governed by “truth” and “correctness”, and more often governed by community. If we cannot shift our thinking away from reasoning based primarily on our own letters of the law and our own comfortable interpretations of Scripture and toward practical, creative, relevant approaches to a culture already skeptical of dogma, the long term future of our institutional churches is in serious doubt.