Back in my college days when I played Dungeons & Dragons, there was a term amongst my friends known as “rules lawyering” which implied a person so rigidly stuck to the rule-book that the game became slowed down and less fun. Today, I see many Christians who do the same. Well-meaning, they insist every single thing pertaining to faith and belief must be spelled out explicitly in Scripture. If the Bible does not state it, they don’t do it. They insist that the entire faith must “be Biblical”.
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with consulting Scriptures and I don’t intend to say that at all. The word of God was truly given to us for instruction, edification and correction. But when Christian faith becomes a matter of defining and limiting everything to written Scripture, the meaning is lost. There exists an entire array of beautiful Christian thought, symbolism and devotion that doesn’t appear underlined in bold.
Scripture itself says “Not everything that Jesus did and taught was written down” – John 21:25. It shows us that the apostles preached by word and oral tradition instead of toting a Bible everywhere. Paul says that the Gospel comes by hearing. His spoken words struck hearts to believe- not looking at scrolls. Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonians says “He called you to this through our gospel that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which were taught, whether by word of mouth or by epistle.” (2:14-15). Paul teaches Timothy, his disciple to preach orally (1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim 1:6,)
For the early Christians, faith was an expression of a new life and a new fulfillment of God’s law, through Christ. Christ often speaks against those who “rules lawyer” who hold every little thing up to the Law. He teaches us that God’s law is more than just a rule-book; it is something that must be written in the heart. In fact, the Pharisee’s question “Is this according to the Law?” sounds an awful lot like the modern Christian’s protest “Where is this in the Bible?”
For some Christians, it must all be in the Bible. What we sing, what we do, what we think. I can’t say, “Blessed virgin Mary” or “Holy Trinity” unless those words appear in the Bible. I can’t call the church “our mother” or Christ “our brother” unless the Bible states it first. This rules-lawyering becomes hampering to our own spiritual growth. The integral message is slowed down and our flame of love burns less bright. We loose sight of the “game”, so to speak, and can’t remember why we are “playing” it in the first place. If God wished us to strap a Bible to our foreheads and consult it before every single action, He would have dropped a fully-bound King James Version from the sky! But instead, Our Lord chose 12 apostles and sent them into all corners of the world preaching orally. While Jesus attested to the Law, He perfected the Law. He became the Law and gave it all a new meaning, a fulfilled meaning in Him. Jesus took upon human flesh so that we don’t have to beat eachother over the head with a rule-book. He gave us an active, living faith.
As Christians, we preach the Gospel and live it. No one needs a Bible in order to feel the presence of God protecting them from grave danger. A Bible verse isn’t necessary for someone to repent and reject a life of sin. Sometimes, the sweet name of “Jesus” helps one who is deeply suffering; sometimes a simple sign of the cross drives away demons. The power of Christ isn’t limited to written Scripture. God isn’t bound by words. The Bible is important and we should study our Scripture often however, we can express love for God without it. We can sing a hymn in the woods without worrying if it’s Biblical or not, we can call the church “our mother” and call Christ “our brother”, we can freely say “Blessed virgin Mary” and “Holy Trinity” because God is present in those things. It’s difficult to run a race when one constantly holds the rule-book in their hands. That VCR will never get fixed if we don’t lay aside the instruction manual and get to work! Instead, we should let our Holy Scripture be a gentle guide and a lamp unto our feet- and not a heavy stone in our shoe.