The Bible is not a rule book

The Bible is not a rule book

The Bible is a book that teaches us the mind of God, not a code of rules

Conservative Bible-loving Christians have often presented the Bible as a law book, full of rules to follow. That is understandable since the Torah has six hundred and thirteen commandments. The problem with presenting the Bible as a rule book is that we do not follow all the rules. We pick and choose the ones that we like. Here are a few examples.

At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. 2 And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the Lord’s release.

Deuteronomy 15:1

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

Exodus 20:8

If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.

John 13:14

Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen.

1 Peter 5:14

There are many more, as you are aware. We justify why we don’t have to do one, and we must do another. I am not saying that is wrong; in fact, I believe that is right, but it is the motivation behind it, the way it is presented, causes the problem.

Teaching the whole Bible context

What happens is we narrow down on specific passages and stress their importance without understanding the context, and I do not mean the immediate context; I mean the Bible context. The ability to figure out what God is trying to accomplish at a certain point in history is not something most of us do. Without this understanding, things get confusing. Take the Torah, for instance. God gave the Torah to His chosen nation, and it was for them to live out. Then God destroys the temple, which makes it impossible to keep most of the Laws. Then God sends His followers unto nations that have cultures that are the very opposite of what the law was trying to accomplish. How do Christians live where they might have to eat things that the law forbids. That was Peter’s concern.

Applying the Bible‘s teaching to our culture

Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, does a marvelous job of taking the Old Testament laws and applying them to his current situations. Paul realized that He had to understand and teach what God was doing and apply the law to believers’ lives. Is circumcision a significant problem in your church? Probably not. Is eating meat offered to idols at the local temple a problem in your church? I think not! Just as Paul had to take the Old Testament and God’s will and figure out how it applied, so do we have to today. By studying Paul, we can learn what He did and use it for an example of how to live in our cultures.

Unfortunately, what some groups of Christians do is try to change their culture to match Paul’s teachings rather than applying the law to the current culture as Paul did. We have cell phones, cars, planes, TV, the internet, drugs, tattooing, and abortion. You cannot go to an index of rules that covers every possible cultural practice. Not one of these is addressed explicitly by Paul, Peter, James, or John. But they all are things that bring problems that we deal with today.

There is no index of rules

The trouble with understanding the Bible as a rule book is we run into many problems. The one most preachers have probably run into is the person who says, “where is that found in the Bible?” As if there is a rule for every situation in every culture of all of history. Then some claim Christians are hypocrites because they follow one rule and ignore the other. 

Let the Holy Spirit lead

What I have been describing can become hard to sort out. Trying to figure out what to do in all situations is a challenge, but this is the very reason Jesus left us the Holy Spirit. We are taught over and over again that the Holy Spirit will be there to guide us if we do not grieve Him. The Holy Spirit is a personal guide to holiness—He is better than a rule book!

2 Until the day in which he was taken up, after that he through the Holy Ghost had given commandments unto the apostles whom he had chosen:

Acts 1:2

For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

Romans 14:17

That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.

Romans 15:16

The wrong view of the Bible because Christians have failed

We have failed to teach people the situation, the culture, and what God was trying to accomplish at a particular moment in the Bible’s history. Without that knowledge, we misunderstand the reason for the commandment. This way of thinking has led many to reject the Bible because they see it as a misogynistic, slavery promoting book. Atheist Matt Dillahunty on the Unbelievable Youtube channel said he could write a better Bible by merely copying it word for word and add “thou shalt own no slaves.” I have heard these types of complaints against the Bible many times. It clearly shows a misunderstanding of how to read it.

It is a fact that men of old were misogynists; women had minimal rights and were treated as property. Slavery was a common way of life in ancient times. God would not instantly bring about changes in the world any more than He does with our individual lives. 

A way to illustrate this is with carbon-based fuels because today, many believe they are destroying the earth (this is only an illustration; please understand this). Suppose God knows this and wants us to move to other energy sources. It would be impossible for us to shut down everything that runs on carbon fuel at once. Progress takes time. God knew slavery was the end goal, but it takes time.

I remember cars in the 70s that were hampered by smog emission. Some were unwilling to see possibilities, and complained, and came up with conspiracy theories on how the oil companies were keeping gas mileage down. Now we have cars with more power, better gas mileage, and cleaner emissions. Change takes time if we are willing to see the possibilities. We need to have a clear vision of what God is trying to accomplish.

Seeing the big picture

What I am getting at is we have to see the Bible as a story of a lost paradise and God working with humans to get us back to that place. A place where there are no slaves and women are equal. Where there is no poor and needy, and people are heald. 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

Ephesians 4:13

Being a good steward

I am afraid that many have concluded that this world is like a sinking ship, and we need to get people off it. In some ways, that is right, but that mindset leads to being poor stewards. Imagine you are left as a caretaker of a house, and for twenty years, you wait for the owner to return. During that time, things start to break and fall into disrepair. Rather than doing your best to keep it in repair, you sit back and wait for the master to return so you can point out all the problems that have arisen. What do you think the master would say? In my story, the master says, “I knew the house would be old and needy, so I was going to build a new one. But because you have failed to be faithful to this one, you will have a little part in the new one.”

Finding a consensus

It is my opinion that one of the significant failures of the fundamentalist movement is the lack of unity among churches. The problems we face today are significant, and we need a clear understanding of how we are to deal with them. In fundamentalism, it is so divided because each church is a law unto themselves. I think elected leaders must still meet in assemblies to come to a common consense on how to deal with the current cultural dilemmas. That is what the early church did in Acts chapter fifteen. It also what the early church did, like in the First Council of Nicaea.

We can look at our situation with the LGBT movement as the world moving away from the Kingdom of God, or we can look at it as an opportunity to move it towards the Kingdom. For many centuries homosexuality was cast into the closet and never dealt with by the church. It existed even in the church, but it was in secret. Jesus did not come to keep the leapers as outcasts but to heal them. I have personally heard in the past many cruel words spoken about gays from the pulpit. Not so much nowadays. The question is, how do we deal with the problem. How do we not encourage the problem to continue and find ways to bring healing? That is a task for those who love God’s Kingdom. These might be the things we are judge by as stewards of Jesus’ Kingdom. It is easy to bury the problem, it is much harder to heal, but I am sure that it can be done with the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

So in conclusion, it is time to see the Bible as a living book, not a static book of unchanging rules meant for all times and all occasions. The Pastors of our days are to be men led by the Holy Spirit so that they can take the Bible and apply it to our current culture and move us forward to a better understanding of what we are to become—not holding us back with rules for other cultures. It is also our job to do this in our own lives.

Read the Bible with discernment. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. Seek out others who want the will of God in their lives, and the Bible will illuminate your way. 

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