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As a boy, I do not recall either my parents or my grandparents ever reading the Bible. Though we did not have personal Bibles, we had a family Bible. Other than to file newspaper clippings, press flowers, record family tree information or to leaf through the colorful pictures, the family Bible was not usually opened. In my house, the family Bible did not occupy a prominent place; it was high on a bookcase, not obviously visible and dusty.
Though I received religious training in my early childhood, not even then was I encouraged to read the Bible. Further, my classmates and I were strictly forbidden to discuss religion with Protestants. It was explained to us that only the priest could understand and interpret the Bible. We were led to believe that the Bible contained stories but nothing applicable to us today.
Essentially, at that stage of my life, I practiced "dead-letter religion." Finally, due to prolific hypocrisy, even occasionally apparent in my devout grandmother, I aimlessly sought the true church of the Bible. Fortunately, providentially I am convinced, I found simple, New Testament Christianity.
When I obeyed the Gospel of Christ, I exchanged dead-letter religion for a vibrant, true, redeeming, God-authored religion. Only primitive Christianity without the barnacles of human invention is suitable to the Gospel Age in which we live and the eternal heaven for which we persevere.
It was with no little dismay and alarm that a few years ago I observed that some Christians began to relegate the Bible to the status of "love-letters from God." What they meant was that they viewed the Bible as a collection of stories with no application today. I once put that sorry mentality behind me and it grieved me that others would resort to some of the very things for which I repented when I became a Christian.
More recently, still others began to decry what they view as "pattern theology." Again, what they mean is that the Bible is a collection of stories or merely historical information (by the way, on which we cannot rely) with no application today.
Catholicism is widely recognized as a dead-letter religion. However, reducing the Bible to a collection of love-letters or opting for a non-patternist perspective of the Bible is no less a declared preference for a dead-letter religion.
If I had been content with a dead-letter religion, I would have remained a Catholic. I will not go back! That fellow Christians, although erring, argue for dead-letter religion is no more compelling.
Catholic dead-letter religion, love-letter religion and non-pattern theology have a common underlying malady. In each case there is a sinful disdain for the authority of God and an unashamed, blatant preference for the authority of men.
Catholic doctrine imagines that authority resides in the church. Likewise, self-styled non-patternist Christians also intend to divest God of his authority and claim it for themselves.
In truth, the Bible is the absolute, final, standard of authority in religion. It is God-authored and God-given. It has been preserved for us by God. Further, the Bible alone is our only reliable information about the personality of God, the extent of his power, the acceptable way to worship him, redemption, godly conduct, the origin and destination of man, rewards bountifully afforded the righteous and punishment reserved for the wicked.
Today, the Old Testament undergirds the New Testament as an indispensable foundation (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11; Gal. 3:23-25). Yet, the New has replaced the Old (Gal. 3:25; Eph. 2:15; Col. 2:14; Heb. 8:6-13; Rom. 7:6). All Scripture is inspired by God and continues to occupy a place in the lives of his servants (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The Holy Spirit revealed the mind of God in the form of the Old Covenant (2 Pet. 1:20-21) and the New Covenant (Matt. 10:19-20). Additionally, Jesus personally brought the Gospel to mankind (John 1:17) and the Holy Spirit caused our Lord's apostles to recall what Jesus taught them, as well as teach them further (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13). God intended the New Testament should replace both the Old Testament and even the miraculous manner in which the Gospel appeared as partial, piecemeal revelations prior to a completely revealed, written and preserved covenant (1 Cor. 13:8-13; Eph. 4:11-14).
Clearly the former covenants involved pattern-keeping and Old Testament examples of such appear in the New Testament to illustrate the same principle for us (Heb. 8:5). That a specific pattern or form of doctrine is required of Christians cannot be successfully denied (Rom. 6:17).
To dispense with New Testament pattern, making it not applicable and binding today, sets humanity hopelessly adrift and irrecoverably lost in a sea of sin. If not lost, then unconditionally saved or universalism. The latter is the obvious goal of those who consequently argue for and practice open fellowship.
Jesus has a message for the proponents of dead-letter religion among us: "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). Dead-letter religion — I'll have none of it!