Have We Really Been Doing It By The Book

"The unexamined life is not worth living." -SOCRATES

"WE DO EVERYTHING by the Word of God! The New Testament is our guide for faith and practice! We live . . . and we die . . . by this Book!"

These were the words that thundered forth from the mouth of Pastor Farley as he delivered his Sunday morning sermon. Winchester Spudchecker, a member of Pastor Farley's church, had heard them dozens of times before. But this time it was different. Dressed in his blue suit, frozen in the back pew with his wife, Trudy, Winchester stared at the ceiling as Pastor Farley continued talking about "doing everything by the sacred Book.""

One hour before Pastor Farley began his sermon, Winchester had had a fuming fight with Trudy. This was a common occurrence as Winchester, Trudy, and their three daughters, Felicia, Gertrude, and Zanobia, got ready for church on Sunday morning.

His mind began replaying the event. . . .

"Truuudyy! Why aren't the kids ready? We're always late! Why can't you ever get them prepared on time?" Winchester yelled as he anxiously glanced at the clock.

Trudy's response was typical. "If you ever thought to help me this wouldn't happen all the time! Why don't you start giving me a hand in this house?" The argument went back and forth until Winchester turned on the children: "Zanobia Spudchecker! . . . Why can't you respect us enough to get ready on time? . . . Felicia, how many times do I have to tell you to turn off your PlayStation before 9 a.m.?" Hearing the commotion, Gertrude burst into tears.

Wearing their Sunday best, the Spudchecker family finally drove to church at breakneck speed. (Winchester hated to be late and had received three speeding tickets this past year—all given to him on Sunday mornings!)

As they raced to the church building, the silence in the car was deafening. Winchester was steaming. Trudy was sulking. With heads down, the three Spudchecker daughters were trying to prepare their minds for something they hated . . . another long hour of Sunday school!

As they pulled in to the church parking lot, Winchester and Trudy gracefully exited the car, sporting large smiles. They held each other arm in arm and greeted their fellow church members, chuckling and putting on the pretense that all was well. Felicia, Gertrude, and Zanobia followed their parents with chins pointed upward.

These were the fresh yet painful memories that coursed through Winchester's mind that Sunday morning as Pastor Farley continued his sermon. Brooding in self-condemnation, Winchester began to ask himself some searching questions: Why am I dressed up prim and proper looking like a good Christian when I acted like a heathen just an hour ago?

.. I wonder how many other families had this same pitiful experience this morning? Yet we're all smelling nice and lookingpretty for God.

Winchester was a bit shocked by these thoughts. Such questions had never before entered his consciousness.

As he peeked over to see Pastor Farley's wife and children sitting prim and proper on the front pew, Winchester mused to himself: I wonder if Pastor Farley screamed at his wife and kids this morning ? Hmmm

Winchester's mind continued to race in this direction as he watched Pastor Farley pound the pulpit for emphasis and raise his Bible with his right hand. " We at First Bible New Testament Community Church do everything by this Book! Everything! This is the Word of God, and we cannot stray from it . . . not even one millimeter!"

Suddenly Winchester had another new thought: I don't remember reading anywhere in the Bible that Christians are supposed to dress up to go to church. Is that by the Book?

This single thought unleashed a torrent of other barbed questions. As scores of frozen pew sitters filled his horizon, Winchester continued to ponder similar new questions. Questions that no Christian is supposed to ask. Questions like:

Is sitting in this uncushioned pew, staring at the back of twelve rows of heads for forty-five minutes, doing things by the Book? Why do we spend so much money to maintain this building when we're here only twice a week for a few hours? Why is half the congregation barely awake when Pastor Farley preaches? Why do my kids hate Sunday school? Why do we go through this same predictable, yawn-inspiring ritual every Sunday morning? Why am I going to church when it bores me to tears and does nothing for me spiritually? Why do I wear this uncomfortable necktie every Sunday morning when all it seems to do is cut off blood circulation to my brain?

Winchester felt unclean and sacrilegious to ask such things. Yet something was happening inside of him that compelled him to doubt his entire church experience. These thoughts had been lying dormant in Winchester's subconscious for years. Today, they surfaced.

Interestingly, the questions Winchester had that day are questions that never enter the conscious thinking of most Christians. Yet the sober reality is that Winchester's eyes had been opened.

As startling as it may sound, almost everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible. As pastors preach from their pulpits about being "biblical" and following the "pure Word of God," their words betray them. The truth is that precious little that is observed today in contemporary Christianity maps to anything found in the first-century church.

QUESTIONS WE NEVER THINK TO ASK

Socrates (470-399 BC)1 is considered by some historians to be the father of philosophy. Born and raised in Athens, his custom was to go about the town relentlessly raising questions and analyzing the popular views of his day. Socrates believed that truth is found by dialoguing extensively about an issue and relentlessly questioning it. This method is known as dialectic or "the Socratic method." He thought freely on matters that his fellow Athenians felt were closed for discussion.

Socrates' habit of pelting people with searching questions and roping them into critical dialogues about their accepted customs eventually got him killed. His incessant questioning of tightly held traditions provoked the leaders of Athens to charge him with "corrupting the youth." As a result, they put Socrates to death. A clear message was sent to his fellow Athenians: All who question the established customs will meet the same fate!2

Socrates was not the only provocateur to reap severe reprisal for his nonconformity: Isaiah was sawn in half, John the Baptist was beheaded, and Jesus was crucified. Not to mention the thousands of Christians who have been tortured and martyred through the centuries by the institutional church because they dared to challenge its teachings.'

As Christians, we are taught by our leaders to believe certain

Note that on the first mention of historical figures (especially those who had a great impact on the development of the church), we generally include the dates of their births and deaths. You can also consult the appendix "Key Figures in Church History" on page 277 for these dattes and a brief summary of these individuals' influence.

For a concise treatment of Socrates' life and teaching, see Samuel Enoch Stumpfs Socrates to Sartre (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993), 29-45.

Ken Connolly, The Indestructible Book (Grand Rapids; Baker Books, 1996); Foxe's Book of Martyrs (Old Tappan, NJ: Spire Books, 1968).

ideas and behave in certain ways. We are also encouraged to read our Bibles. But we are conditioned to read the Bible with the lens handed to us by the Christian tradition to which we belong. We are taught to obey our denomination (or movement) and never to challenge what it teaches.

(At this moment, all the rebellious hearts are applauding and are plotting to wield the above paragraphs to wreak havoc in their churches. If that is you, dear rebellious heart, you have missed our point by a considerable distance. We do not stand with you. Our advice: Either leave your church quietly, refusing to cause division, or be at peace with it. There is a vast gulf between rebellion and taking a stand for what is true.)

If the truth be told, we Christians never seem to ask why we do what we do. Instead, we blithely carry out our religious traditions without asking where they came from. Most Christians who claim to uphold the integrity of God's Word have never sought to see if what they do every Sunday has any scriptural backing. How do we know this? Because if they did, it would lead them to some very disturbing conclusions that would compel them by conscience to forever abandon what they are doing.

Strikingly, contemporary church thought and practice have been influenced far more by postbiblical historical events than by New Testament imperatives and examples. Yet most Christians are not conscious of this influence. Nor are they aware that it has created a slew of cherished, calcified, humanly devised traditions4—all of which are routinely passed off to us as "Christian."'

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