Must we follow the biblical model in all things?
As pastor of a traditional SBC church, the above question is one that I have been wrestling with and continue to wrestle with. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament (especially the book of Acts) shows that the way the modern, American church operates is far different from what we see modeled in scripture. What is interesting is that a church can follow all the commands of scripture, and at the same time look almost nothing like the early church. This happens when what is modeled is ignored.
So - what do we do with the above question? Must we follow the biblical model in the way the church functions?
I'm beginning to think that we are asking the wrong question.
Here is an example of folks asking the wrong question about the issue of suffering. Some people ask, "If God is both perfectly powerful and perfectly loving, then why do terrible things happen to people?" This is the wrong question. The biblical question should be, "In light of my rebellion against perfectly holy God, why doesn't He cast me into Hell right now?"
I think we are asking the wrong question about what is modeled in the bible as it relates to how the church operates. For too long, I have been asking if we must follow what is modeled. I'm realizing that there is a better, more appropriate, and more biblical question. That question is this:
Why wouldn't we want to follow what is modeled in scripture as it relates to the church?
God has given us all we need in His word. For example:
Acts 17:25 says, "...nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything."
II Peter 1:3 says, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence..."
The bible is all we need. As evangelicals, we say that the bible is completely true and authoritative. We say that it is our rule for both faith and practice.
If this is the case, then we must admit at least two things: First, the bible tells us all we need to know about church. Second, we should try to model our churches after what we see in the scriptures.
With that in mind, what should we do? Those who feel led to do so should plant churches modeled after exactly what we see in the NT.
However, the reality is that many of us are part of local churches that practice various things that are not found in the bible. These things are not necessarily bad, but they are unbiblical in the sense that they are not found anywhere in the bible. So, in this situation, what do we do?
The first thing to do is to study the practice of the early church. Many churched-folks have never thought or been taught about these issues.
Second, we should take a look at everything we are doing as a church. Chances are good that we are already doing some things that scripture models. For example, when we pray together as a body this is clearly modeled after what we see in the bible. When we eat together, this is following the biblical model. When we care for the sick and needy in the church and outside it, this follows what we see in the bible.
Third, we should be honest with ourselves about things we are doing that are nowhere to be found in scripture. What do we do about these things? Well, that depends on how biblical we want to be. If we are going to make changes, we should move slowly, explaining to everyone why we are doing what we are doing.
Additionally, I do think there is some freedom in this. There are some things that we may be doing that, after much prayer, we decide are fine to continue. We must be careful, however, and not use Christian freedom as an excuse for being unbiblical.
We should fault on the side of being biblical. Unless we have an extremely good reason for not following what is modeled in scripture, we should do so. One example of not following scripture literally might be the command to give one another a holy kiss. In our culture, this might not be appropriate.
To summarize, let's make sure we are asking the right question. In light of what we say we believe about the bible, the right question must be: Why wouldn't we want to follow what is modeled in scripture as it relates to the church?