Indicators of a biblical church

Aug 18, 2014 by

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My daughter brought some of her Albuquerque garden soil to Iowa. Her tomato plants were looking yellow, and she suspected the acidity of her soil. With the help of pH paper, in minutes her soil was deemed within the healthy range for tomatoes.



I heard once again of someone leaving a Mennonite church for “a more biblical church.” I wondered how one identifies a biblical church.

I started to imagine bA paper. Instead of pH paper, which checks for the concentration of hydrogen ions, bA paper would check for the concentration of biblical absorption.

What would a biblical indicator assess? Would it measure the times certain words or phrases are said in a worship service? Would it compute clarity on moral issues? Would it assess love expressed for others? Would it appraise outreach and service?

Unlike straight-forward ion concentration, measuring biblical absorption is subjective. Would scripture songs rate higher than traditional hymns? Would ancient sexist language increase or decrease bA? Would homogeneous churches get high ratings on love? Would diverse churches get bonus points?

Looking for an easy way to test for a biblical church seems like trying to trap a wild critter. A biblical church doesn’t easily fit into a neat cage. The word of God is meant to be alive.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann reminds us that the biblical text is endlessly “strange and new.” He points out that “Isaiah was not thinking of Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of a new Earth. Yet we make such leaps all the time.” We leap from “till and keep the earth” (Gen. 2:15) to environmental issues, from Jubilee in Leviticus to a critique of global capitalism.

Writing on “Biblical Authority” in The Christian Century, Brueggemann says we all make “subjective extrapolations” about Scripture “because we have figured out that a cold, reiterative objectivity has no missional energy or moral force.”

Leaping from the Bible to the world we live is an artful dance. Letting the Bible speak can lead us into risky territory. A biblical church isn’t always the most comforting place.

The early church didn’t have pews and Bibles. It had the Hebrew Scriptures, the stories of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It was enough.

We may not have a simple bA paper indicator, but we do have clues for spotting biblical groundedness.

If Jesus were asked about spotting his followers, he might remind us it is our love for each other that clues people in (John 13:35). He might remind us that the Beatitudes indicate the new kingdom coming (Matt. 5:3-13).

If Paul were asked, he might remind us of nonconformity and transformed minds (Rom. 12:1-2), or he might list for us the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

If Menno Simons were asked to spot a biblical church, he might remind us that true evangelical faith cannot lie sleeping; it clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, comforts the sorrowful, shelters the destitute.

We can all agree that a biblical church is one where the people are held together by a common confession of Jesus as Lord and authority. A healthy church seeks to be transformed by Jesus and the biblical narrative.

A biblical church can be a surprising place. How is God’s spirit transforming our congregations? Is our biblical absorption expressing itself in unexpected ways?

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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