Church Teaching: Bible or Tradition?

Large sections of the institutional “church” long ago pushed the bible aside as the standard of truth and now rarely teach scripture. They teach their church’s doctrines (traditions) as passed from one generation of teachers to the next. They don’t even interpret the bible through their traditions; they just use select parts of the bible to justify those traditions.

Sadly the majority of Christians don’t even notice because they don’t really engage with scripture for themselves with the Holy Spirit’s help, but prefer to turn to Commentaries, study Bibles, and other “Christian” books.

As an example, when I first became a believer in the 1970s, my (then) views on end times were formed through Hal Lindsay’s Late Great Planet Earth. A book recommended to me by other Christians who’d had their views shaped by the same book. It took several years later to see a problem with that view. When I eventually turned to scripture alone – my WHOLE understanding of the matter was changed.

582572Only a few days ago I had the opportunity to look at a MacArthur study bible and found there was roughly 2/3 of a page of John MacArthur’s notes to 1/3 page of scriptural text. Two or three days after that I read a blogger writing about his encounter with a church that claimed to experience the Spiritual gifts described in 1 Cor 12-14. He was unsure whether what he was observing was biblical or not – so he went home and took out his MacArthur Study Bible and after much study decided that church was in error. Now did he come to that conclusion from the 1/3 bible text or the 2/3 MacArthur notes – considering in the notes MacArthur make it clear that (despite what Paul wrote) the gifts are no longer available and we shouldn’t desire them?

What needs to be considered is whether it is possible to gain understanding from scripture that isn’t tainted to a serious degree by human tradition. But in considering that question we should first ask ourselves whether we believe that God wants us to understand His truth (the only truth) and whether He is capable of imparting that understanding to those who desire it?

To what extent do we limit God? And to what extent does that limitation make us more dependent on men’s traditional teachings and ideas than on God and His Spirit?

I’d be one of the last to say I have never been influenced by man’s traditions. I spent decades either following teachings I hadn’t adequately tested or trying to recover from the damage those teachings had caused to me.

But over the last 8 or 9 years (maybe more) I’ve recognised the importance of trusting the Holy Spirit to give understanding of the scriptures He inspired.

For too long we believers have been conditioned to accept that we need someone to explain scripture to us, that it either takes special academic training or someone with a special “anointing” to understand it. That has made the majority of church-goers passive, dependant and vulnerable.

Men’s traditions will only influence our understanding to the degree that we rely on men FOR our understanding of scripture. The more we involve ourselves with scripture, and the more we trust the Holy Spirit to give understanding, the less influenced by tradition we’ll be.

28 thoughts on “Church Teaching: Bible or Tradition?

  1. I think we have a “leave it to the professionals” mindset and since most ministers don’t teach any perspective other than their own, and possibly the extreme opposite juxtaposed to their own prove its error, I think we remain in a cycle of ignorance. A studied Christian is one with a study Bible and it doesn’t occur to him that his translated Bible is already a translation.

    Thankfully I believe Christians are waking up. And we must remain loving, standing for truth.

  2. How harmful do you think it’s been that we are told to find a local church; how dependent does it make people?

  3. “Find[ing] a local church” in practice is often choosing a particular denomination or a worship style that suits us.

    But the local church is made up of the genuine believers throughout a local community, regardless of group labels or meeting places.

  4. Hi Ruth,
    I don’t think the “translated Bible” causes too much of a problem until we start to get too caught up with the minutiae of biblical text, stressing over individual words and phrases. Unfortunately THAT kind of emphasis is often the foundation of a lot of teaching.

    We should be more concerned with the bigger picture – starting with the overall sweep of Scripture, what is the overall story it is telling? Then there is purpose of each individual book – what is each book showing us?

    And we should not be more focused on small parts of the book than we are on the God who is revealed through the whole book

    Most importantly we should not undervalue the Holy Spirit’s role in giving understanding, but that is where so many people find difficulty, showing great reluctance to trust Him, preferring to put their primary trust in theologically “qualified” bible teachers.

  5. Yes, when my Bible story arc was: God loved His creation and desired relationship, but they strayed far from Him. So He selected a people to reveal Himself thru, to bless all, but they blew it, so He had to step in Himself to fix it.

    There is some truth in that, but it’s mixed with error and wrong assumptions. And it leaves the Jewish people as a plan B and Yeshua as plan C. I don’t see it this way anymore and you’re right, once we get the whole sweep of the story, instead of trying to build a theology based upon an individual word, there’s so much more thinking to do, and it’s so much more gratifying.

  6. Ruth,
    I’m not sure what kind of God people are believing in if they see Him needed to keep changing plans because His initial plans fail…

    To get an understanding of God’s unchanging plan, it’s a good idea to see what scripture reveals about the most distant future. What are the very last events we are told about?
    He has never had back up plans, His intention and the means of realising that intention has always been the same.

    His relationship with mankind has always been working towards a future new creation (new heavens, new earth, new Jerusalem) where only righteousness dwells.

    But for some reason, that kind of thing is not recognised by most even though scripture makes it quite clear. Instead the church teaches that believers will go to heaven and spend eternity with God there.

  7. It’s at least more practicable to see the “church” as all “the genuine believers [in] a local community” — so then we don’t have to lower the bar in order to have multiple leaders, although standards still get dropped.

  8. Amen, brother. I have only recently realized how I allowed men to dictate my beliefs right from the beginning of my conversion. I have recently thought on how, at age 22, I went to a church fellowship after a church service just a few weeks after being converted from a drug-dealing, alcoholic to a Brand New Creation … totally and instantly set free from the desire of drink and drugs and promiscuity … and wondering why the women were all dressed in very revealing summer clothing, as everyone laughed and socialized, with Madonna’s popular tunes playing in the background (it was the mid-80’s), as the joking and ‘fellowship’ went on around me. I literally had the thought, “Well, I guess they know more than me and this must be okay. After all, they all have been christians longer than I have been”. !!! And so began my walk through the mine-fields of current day christianity.

    It has been more than 20+ years since my conversion, and I only now am digging in my heels, determined to follow only God’s Words and not what ‘christians’ and ‘christian teachers’ say is okay to do or believe what they say are God’s truths.

    I believe it is nearly impossible for any one to really know Who God is and what God desires for our lives, if one will only go to church to learn God’s will and will never pick up the Bible to STUDY it for themselves. There are simply too many traditions being taught, and blatant errors taught to stroke the teachers and their hear-ers ego’s and flesh.

    Ephesians 5:
    8 – for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light …
    10 – and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
    11 – Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
    12 – For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.
    13 – But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,
    14 – for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

    “Awake, O sleeper,
    and arise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

    15 – Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
    16 – making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
    17 – Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

  9. I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m increasingly surprised by the number of believers who seem to resist the idea that we are more than able to study and understand scripture for ourselves – if we trust the Holy Spirit to give understanding.

    Two contributing factors to this are laziness (it’s easier to be spoonfed) and the conditioning received that convinces people that they need some qualified or specially “anointed” person to interpret scriptrue for them.

  10. Hi Eliza, what you have written about shows how theological ideas that are easily disproven by scripture, can be passed from generation to generation for more than 1500 years and accepted as truth today – because people are continually taught (and then teach) man’s theology instead of scripture. While professing christians continue to rely on “qualified” and ordained ministers, without diligently testing their teachings, they will learn a lot of church doctrine but little about biblical truth.

  11. I am sure the problems go back further than Augustine… to Origen and Eusebius, for example.

  12. Quite possibly, but Augustine has had far greater continuing influence and is the source of many seriously false doctrines that affect large sections of the church today.

  13. If one’s main beef is Calvinism, that might be true. But there is much more wrong with church.

  14. Calvinism is only one path of false doctrine he helped establish – but a major one. Another big one is replacement theology. Should I also mention his interpretation of “compelling” people to enter the Kingdom (“justified by” Luke 14:23) that led to forced conversions, and later the Spanish Inquisition and the murder of those who wouldn’t convert (including many Jews).

  15. Hatred of Jews and/or sacrificing of them to the agendas of others started far before Calvin, and in earnest (not lightly). And that (prior to Calvin) already involved threats, death, etc. for people not conforming.

  16. Yes, Augustine was around about 1000 years before Calvin, and antisemitism entered the church even before Augustine. But someone of Augustine’s stature who so many people revere, helped to entrench it into church thought.

  17. It seems to me Constantine (who was greatly influenced by Eusebius) was significantly effective.

  18. There are a lot of other church fathers to throw us off true course as well. I don’t mean to minimize Augustine.

  19. Nevertheless, “significantly effective” in referring to the alliance of Eusebius and Constantine — theology, misreporting of history, and active creation of history and church character — is mild understatement.

  20. Apologies. Instead of “that” (unclear substitutes for specifics usually not a good way to go), I should have said “replacement (prior to Augustine/this person Calvin quoted among others) already….”

  21. I’m not sure how we separate this out…but it seems there’s a (how to express it) “program-theology” that we can get into (as Augustinians, Calvinists, fundamentalists, post-millenialists, etc.) that is the opposite of a LIVING response to a LIVING God.

    I’m rather inclined to believe that the people to whose names these “theology-programs” have been attached (Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, for example) did NOT intend such: but wrote and taught from their personal LIVING relationship with God as an encouragement that their readers also know Him in their personal experience.

    In Jesus, Steve

  22. I’ve heard it said that its best to avoid any kind of “ism” apart from baptism and evangelism.

    It is most likely that those earlier teachers whose teachings have been turned into “isms” would not be too happy about it.

  23. I’d have to agree, Marleen. There seem to be lots of ins-and-outs to the thing; but with Constantine’s making Christianity the “official religion” of the Roman Empire, a line was crossed (at least in the civilizations erected on Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) which, in some deep sense, legitimated the idea that the Kingdom of God can be a kingdom of man.

    At least in America today, we continue to see that idea destroying the Church’ spiritual walk and witness.

    In Jesus, Steve

  24. I agree with that and happen to know that Luther specifically said he didn’t want to be enshrined (my own choice of a word) in naming a branch of faith. Still, the subsection so named has done a lot of good at least in America… I don’t say that to justify the defiance of his wishes, just to state a fact. Something similar (but also very different) is true for church in general as set forward by the likes of Constantine (who made no truly parallel statement). I don’t think there is a branch of Christianity free of his heritage, a corrupt and terrible heritage. Yet it seems we can draw worth out from under the heap [not from the heap itself, church, but the Holy Spirit in whom we (not church) can move and have our being].

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