Which Came First: The Church or the New Testament? -1

22 January 2016

As a Jewish convert to Christ via evangelical Protestantism, I naturally wanted to know God better through the reading of the Scriptures. In fact, it had been through reading the Gospels in the “forbidden book” called the New Testament, at age sixteen, that I had come to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and our promised Messiah. In my early years as a Christian, much of my religious education came from private Bible reading. By the time I entered college, I had a pocket-sized version of the whole Bible that was my constant companion. I would commit favorite passages from the Scriptures to memory, and often quote them to myself in times of temptation-or to others as I sought to convince them of Christ. The Bible became for me-as it is to this day-the most important book in print. I can say from my heart with Saint Paul the Apostle, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).


That’s the good news!

The bad news is that often I would decide for myself what the Scriptures meant. For example, I became so enthusiastic about knowing Jesus as my close and personal friend that I thought my own awareness of Him was all I needed. So I would mark verses about Jesus with my yellow highlighter, but pass over passages concerning God the Father, or the Church, or baptism. I saw the Bible as a heavenly instruction manual. I didn’t think I needed the Church, except as a good place to make friends or to leans more about the Bible so I could be a better do-it-yourself Christian. I came to think that I could build my life, and the Church, by the Book. I mean, I took sola scriptura (“only the Bible”) seriously! Salvation history was clear to me: God sent His Son, together they sent the Holy Spirit, then came the New Testament to explain salvation, and finally the Church developed.

Close, maybe, but not close enough.

Let me hasten to say that the Bible is all God intends it to be. No problem with the Bible. The problem lay in the way I individualized it, subjecting it to my own personal interpretations-some not so bad, others not so good.


It was not long after my conversion to Christianity that I found myself getting swept up in the tide of religious sectarianism, in which Christians would part ways over one issue after another. It seemed, for instance, that there were as many opinions on the Second Coming as there were people in the discussion. So we’d all appeal to the Scriptures. “I believe in the Bible. If it’s not in the Bible I don’t believe it,” became my war cry. What I did not realize was that everyone else was saying the same thing! It was not the Bible, but each one’s private interpretation of it, that became our ultimate authority. In an age which highly exalts independence of thought and self-reliance, I was becoming my own pope! The guidelines I used in interpreting Scripture seemed simple enough: When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. I believed that those who were truly faithful and honest in following this principle would achieve Christian unity.

To my surprise, this “common sense” approach led not to increased Christian clarity and unity, but rather to a spiritual free-for-all! Those who most strongly adhered to believing “only the Bible” tended to become the, most factious, divisive, and combative of Christians-perhaps unintentionally. In fact, it seemed to me that the more one held to the Bible as the only source of spiritual authority, the more factious and sectarian one became. We would even argue heatedly over verses on love! Within my circle of Bible-believing friends, I witnessed a mini-explosion of sects and schismatic movements, each claiming to be “true to the Bible” and each in bitter conflict with the others. Serious conflict arose over every issue imaginable: charismatic gifts, interpretation of prophecy, the proper way to worship, communion, Church government, discipleship, discipline in the Church, morality, accountability, evangelism, social action, the relationship of faith and works, the role of women, and ecumenism.

[Το Be Continued]

Related posts Biblical Theology
Liberation from the Power of Evil 13 July 2020 The central aim of the Gospel reading for the fifth Sunday of Matthew is to demonstrate Christ’s Messianic power. Through Jesus’ activity in the world, His crucifixion, resurrection then the foundation of the Church, the destructive work of the demons is abolished, people are liberated from their domination and a new era begins for humanity. Indic...
The Son and Word of God, the Saviour of the Human Race 12 July 2020 Most of the miracles performed by Jesus were the result of a request by people who needed the miracle, and only occurred after He had previously examined their faith. There were, however, miracles which he Himself wished to perform. We heard of one such today. The reason why Jesus wished to perform a miracle in this particular case, with the two po...
Homily on the Lord’s Ascension 2 June 2020 With the Ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven, we may think that His Disciples were sad to be separated from Him. Up until that moment, the Lord was with them. He spoke to them, and they heard His voice. Now He’s gone, and they won’t see Him again! That is how the Ascension appears to human eyes. But if we look at it through the eyes of the soul, ...
Who’s to Blame? (Sunday of the Blind Man) 24 May 2020 ‘And his disciples asked him, Teacher, who was to blame, he himself or his parents, that he was born blind?’ (Jn. 9, 2). A little earlier the Lord had cured the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda and had said to him: ‘Go and sin no more, lest worse befall you’. (Jn. 5, 14). It’s clear from Christ’s words that the latter, who had been crippled for so...
Sunday of the Blind Man 23 May 2020 Today’s Gospel reading describes the healing of a man born blind, and speaks about the Light of life, the Heavenly Light, Christ. God’s revelation occurs in stages as in last week’s Gospel. Both the blind man and the Samaritan woman initially consider Christ to be an ordinary man, then they recognise Him as one of the Prophets, and finally they wor...