There are many reasons for having complete confidence in the Bible as the Word of God. One of them is this: when it comes to the details of "how to do church", the New Testament is silent. Here are the areas of silence:
- when should you meet, day-wise and time-wise?
- what exactly should you do when you meet?
- what music, if any, should you use?
- what translations to use?
The Gospel is for the world
...for the task of the church is to take the Gospel into every tribal group in the world. This is only possible if the church, like the Son of God, becomes incarnational in that culture. If the missionaries stand outside that culture judging every aspect of it and trying to conform it to their own (cultural) standards, the Gospel will have little success.
The genius of the Gospel is that it focuses on majors and principles and says nothing about minors and details. Why? So that it can find a place in every culture and amongst every people.
Examples good and bad
I remember watching a black and white film from about the 1950s of a group of South American converts dressed in suits, hair brylcreemed, singing western songs in English to an approving church congregation in North America - you could read on the faces of the congregation, "these people are truly and properly converted!" But this westerning of converts was an an embarrassing imposition of western-christian-culture and ways of 'doing church' on another culture.
If you go to many Asian churches in England, on the other hand, you will find Christians using Indian instruments singing distinctly Indian Christian songs (not translations of Wesley or Townend, words or tune-wise) and hearing sermons of a distinctly Indian nature (for example long and more rambling, rather than short and logical).
Our problem is two fold. First we confuse tradition and Gospel. We think that what we do, as well as what we believe is of equal value and rightness. We forget that the NT nowhere stipulates that one must meet at 11.00am on a Sunday, nowhere stipulates we must sing hymns of a western variety to western instruments, nowhere says we must meet for an hour, and so on. All these little details are left to be worked out in the culture in which the Gospel finds a place.
Our real problem is far bigger: we don't get the Incarnation. In the Incarnation, the Son of God did not bring or impose the trappings of divinity upon the world, but came not only as a man, but "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3: as close as it is possible to be like us without any sin), and indeed incarnated himself into one world culture - Jewish culture. He would have been culturally indistinguishable from those around him, except for their sin. He would have dressed like a Jew, spoken like a Jew and acted like a Jew.
And we are called to reach our world in the same way.
The consequences of our confusion
The tragedy of our failure to grasp the Genius of the Gospel is that the world is so often put off by our
traditions and not by the Gospel. They are offended by ancient cultural relics in language (perhaps such as "thees" and "thous"), furniture (by pews and organs and tunes of a bygone age) and literature (KJV-like translations). They stumble over these and are put off before they have the chance to hear or see who Jesus is.
And in the end we complain that the fields are hard and stony, and we live in day of small things. While all along the problem is our refusal to become all things to all men to win them for Christ. We are more committed to our traditions than to the lost and to the Gospel.