For many years, I attended a church that called itself a “Bible church.” I really loved it and am thankful for everything I received there. But many years later I started to reflect on what exactly that name means.
First of all, it (at least implicitly) means that churches unlike your own are in fact not biblical.
That is a strong claim to make.
What do we actually know about the churches in the Bible?
- We know they had a number of leadership positions, from apostle to deacon, teacher to prophet, and so on.
- We know they sung hymns.
- We know they practiced baptism for the dead, though we don’t know what exactly what means nor do we know if it was a good thing or not.
- We know they shared agape feasts on a regular basis.
- We know that many of them met in homes.
- We know some of the basic creedal formulas that they likely recited on a regular basis and memorized.
- We know that they used their resources to help widows and Christian women who had decided not to marry because of their faith in Christ (ie, nuns).
As it happens, no “Bible church” actually does all these things. Indeed, most Christian churches don’t do all these things, but then again, they don’t make the claim that they are, in fact, Bible churches.
(To read more about “traditions that are not in the Bible,” click here.)
But the reality in the New Testament is quite a bit more complicated and, I think, interesting.
Jerusalem Bible Church, under the leadership of James, had ways of interpreting Scripture and living the Christian faith that were quite different from those of Antioch Bible Church—a veritable multisite megachurch with a strong focus on sending out missionaries (like Paul, among others). And then there’s Corinth Bible Church—an inclusive and diverse community of Spirit-filled disciples, where the leadership of the youth was affirmed and valued!
(On that last point, see the letters from Clement of Rome to Corinth. Recall that Clement, the senior pastor of Rome Bible Church (AKA, one of the earliest popes), was possibly a companion of Paul.)
So we have to ask the question, is there such a thing as a ‘Bible’ church—simpliciter, without qualification? I think the answer must be no.
Let’s go back to Corinth Bible Church above. Any of you, my fellow pastors, feel like accepting that call?
The reality is that the Bible’s churches were much like our churches today: excelling in certain and things and struggling greatly with others. Some had great strengths while also having great weaknesses.
You know the problems: lukewarm faith, wanting to return to the good old days (think of the Judaizers), attraction to the latest cool new thing for a spiritual breakthrough (Gnostics, though I think here of evangelical fads like the Prayer of Jabez—but at least that is actually from the bible). Keeping Christ to yourself because, well, you know, people might get offended. And many more.
If you have ever pastored or attended a church with any of these issues—and there are many more—then that was a Bible church.
Take a moment and let that sink in. The earliest churches may have had parts or all of the Tanakh (the Old Testament, roughly speaking). But they had no New Testament.
Bible churches would have likely had a box with various scrolls or parchments that had parts or all of books in our present-day New Testament, along with numerous other documents (like those letters from Clement to Corinth).
The writings read and taught on in one city would have overlapped with those of other cities, but would not have been identical at all. The New Testament was not codified as a universal collection of documents (canon) until the fourth century.
So there is a fundamental irony in being a “Bible church”: these churches actually predate the Bible we use today!
(To learn more about reading Scripture in Anglican worship, click here.)
I can hear the objections: “That’s not what we mean. We mean that we follow the Bible and only the Bible.”
I would say go back to point one above: if you own property you are not a Bible church. If you do not meet in homes or the (presently non-existent) Temple in Jerusalem, you are not a Bible church. You get the idea.
Now, Anglicans certainly agree that all that is needed for salvation is found in the Bible. We claim that the Word of God must be proclaimed rightly for any congregation of people to really be a church. And we firmly commit ourselves to the foundational biblical teachings and recite this summary on a regular basis in the form of the Apostles’ Creed.
But there is more good news from the Anglican side. It’s OK!
It’s OK that your church today does not function exactly like one of the Bible’s churches.
Just as God rejoiced in the variety of life as it flourished and so blessed it in Genesis 1, just as God did not want for humanity to all be uniform and resisted their efforts at such an endeavor at the Tower of Babel, so God is OK with the variety in our forms of worship and being his Church.
(Click here to read “Anglican Worship: Where Does It Say in the Bible to Do That?“)
Obviously we at Anglican Pastor believe there is much to commend to you in the broad and varied traditions of the Anglican way. But we do not claim that somehow we are the only ones doing it right (biblically), and that everyone else is somehow not.
While not claiming to be the biblical way, we strive to be a biblical way.
While not claiming to be the true Church, we strive to be among those churches that are faithful and true.
And, as a final, parting point, let me say something about albs.
The white robe called the alb is indeed what your brothers at Rome Bible Church wore on a daily basis.
So, if you’re a pastor of a “Bible church,” then lay aside your suit (or shorts, skinny jeans, and/or graphic T) and get yourself an alb. And then, when people are like, “That looks so Catholic!,” you can reply: “I got this style from Pastor Clem at RBC.”
Watch out, you just might start a trend.
(To learn more about Scripture in the Anglican tradition, click here.)