Cherry-Picking Bible Verses

The worse thing we can do is think that the Bible addresses every single scenario imaginable. That the Word has an answer for every conceivable question we may have. When we hold that the Bible does, we invariably force it to answer our questions and end up establishing beliefs that become, for some, as good as sound doctrine and lead to even greater divisions than already exists.

For example, many of us ministers have often been asked if God would allow for the remarriage of one who was in a physically abusive relationship that had divorced because of such. The Bible has no answer for this question. The only information we have pertains to adultery. The case where one is physically abused is not at all addressed and were we to counsel that God would be okay with it, we would be adding to His Word and speaking where He hasn’t spoken. I’d like to think that God would be okay with it, but I am only obliged to speak where divine revelation has spoken on such matters. I might even be able to reason that it would be okay to divorce and remarry in such a case, but I must hold true to what God has said and not offer my personal conjecture where He hasn’t said anything. Some might think it heartless of me to hold to such a position, and that’s certainly one’s right. It isn’t so much heartlessness as it is wanting to be a faithful steward of the Word.

I was once told a story where a congregation had a split, and it amounted to some trying to find an answer for a scenario that the Bible doesn’t explicitly address. The whole issue was really, as I see it, a matter of personal opinion and preference. The congregation, under its elders, had decided at some point in the past to have children’s church. During the sermon, the children would be dismissed to an adjoining room where they had their sermon time. I know that some might disagree with this while others would see no problem with it, but since the Bible doesn’t explicitly address children’s church, or whatever we’d call it, a congregation has liberty. By the way, I know of both “sound, conservative” and “liberal, progressive” congregations that have such a program.

Nevertheless, a family placed membership at the church in question and began privately disputing the children’s church up to taking the matter to the elders, which I think is a reasonable way to approach such. The elders, however, used as justification for dismantling this program passages speaking about Christians being “together.” Once a member brought me the written statement the elders drafted and presented to the congregation, even in a bulletin, I reviewed the passages. None of these passages, so far as I could discern, had nothing whatsoever to do with worship. The elders also refused to hear concerns from the other side on the matter, and they wound up losing 20% of the congregation over it, including the family that began the dispute.

What I find commendable in this story is that the elders were willing to listen to the concerns of a family. They were willing to study their Bibles on the matter, regardless of how I might view their conclusion. I believe they and all concerned wanted to please the Lord, but the way things were handled and the division were not pleasing to God. What’s regrettable is that they read into the Text a meaning it didn’t present. Passages were cherry-picked to support a conclusion, and rather than being honest that the Bible, in reality, did not speak about the scenario, the result was sad. We might opine on the families that left as being petty, but one could also make the same argument of the disputing parties.

If we will simply preach the Bible, and be honest enough to say that the Bible doesn’t answer this or that question, we find an area in which to operate. The result, therefore, boils down to the decision of elders who shepherd the church. They are to uphold sound doctrine, but also to settle such matters where the Bible doesn’t necessarily speak. Sure, we say that we should be silent where the Bible is silent, but in this case, the elders previously held that the program would be for the good of the children’s development as well as adult involvement. The program was well received and did well for the life of the congregation.

Some might argue, “They had no Bible authorization for the program!” Neither do we for offering the invitation at the end of sermons, but we’ve adopted that tradition. Neither do we for having announcements at the beginning or end of worship services, but many congregations do it. We also have not authorization for Sunday or Wednesday evening services, but many of us have them for the development of the body. We can cherry-pick as much on the Bible as we do on seeking Bible authorization for things when the Scriptures are silent, but sometimes when the Scriptures are silent, we have much more to say when it suits us. When it doesn’t, we cry, “No Bible authorization!”

Steven Hunter (PhD, Faulkner University) is the preaching minister for the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, KY. He's also authored several books for Start2Finish, and Classically Christian explores Christianity from a church-historical perspective. Steven enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and is a practitioner of Goshin Ryu Jujutsu—a traditional Japanese martial art.