Don’t Assume the Bible Is Silent about the Church
Have you ever assumed something that turned out to be wrong? I sure have. For two years I called a good friend “Steve” only to discover that this gracious and longsuffering man preferred to be called “Stephen.”
Evangelicals tend to make a similarly unfounded assumption about how to do church, namely, that the Bible has little to say about it.
We tend to assume that the Bible provides no normative pattern of church structure, so we can organize the church however it seems best to us.
We assume that, as long as we steer clear of sin and doctrinal error, basically anything goes in corporate worship. So we treat the church’s gatherings as a blank state to fill in how we please. (Sometimes we’ll appeal to Luther or Cranmer for backing, but I’m not sure those brothers would be very happy with some of the uses to which we put their so-called “normative principle.”)
And when it comes to the work of a pastor, our readiness to adopt corporate titles, techniques, and priorities seems to indicate that we think the Bible has little to say about what a pastor is to be and do.
The funny thing is, we heartily embrace the supreme authority of Scripture. We want to know what the Bible says and we intend to obey it—all of it. We often preach expositionally, laboring to unfold the meaning of all of Scripture and then press it into people’s hearts and lives.
In other words, we don’t assume that the Bible is silent when it comes to personal morality, even about ethical issues that aren’t addressed explicitly in Scripture. We don’t even assume the Bible is silent about issues in the public sphere, though such matters are often several levels of inference removed from any specific biblical texts.
Yet when it comes to the corporate life and shape of the church, the standard line seems to be, “Timeless message, timely methods.” Or, “We hold our theology in a closed hand, but our methodology in an open hand.”
Of course there’s more than a grain of truth in both of these sayings. Down on the ground in pastoral ministry, there is plenty of room for prudence and best practices.
The problem is, this is often all that we say about how to do ministry. We assume that “of course” Scripture doesn’t speak to how we structure the church, or what we do in corporate worship, or what a pastor’s job actually is.
But is that assumption right?
My goal here is not to argue for a specific set of conclusions but for a different posture of heart and mind. Instead of assuming the Bible is silent, and that we’ve got a blank check to do church however we want, let’s re-open the question. What if we approached Scripture eager to hear any and every way it might inform what we do in church? We should look for everything from direct commands to general principles to broader applications of our theology, shouldn’t we?
Is it possible that the Bible says more about doing church than we’ve thought? Could it be we simply haven’t expected it to say much, and so we’ve missed what’s really there? Is it possible that there are more commands than we’ve noticed? And that some of the examples we consign to the “descriptive” bin are actually meant to shape our practices?
I sure don’t have all the answers to these questions. But I do hope more evangelical pastors start asking them.