The Bible is not an Instruction Manual

Instruction Manual

Instruction Manual

Recently I began a new job. As part of my indoctrination, I was given a set of documents that were supposed to teach me how to do my job, but they were totally unhelpful. My predecessor had written them at a high level; they were simply a reminder for someone who already had done the job before. Part of my assigned duties are now to  develop actual step-by-step instructions for each of these processes so we can hand the processes off to our vendors. In one case I expanded a 3-page memory tickler into a 15-page set of instructions that covers nearly everything. And I’m not finished yet.

While I was working, I suddenly drew an analogy between what I was doing and the Scriptures. You see, the Scriptures are not what we often think they are. They are not an instruction manual for the Christian life. They contain no manual for church order or discipline. They describe no order of service. And they mostly hint around at doctrines which are central to the Christian faith.

Paul’s letters are, for the most part, corrective in nature. Apart from Romans and Hebrews (whose Pauline authorship is still a matter of debate), there are no theological treatises in any of Paul’s writings. Instead, he writes to churches in trouble, or churches with questions, and reminds them of what he taught them when he was with them. He guides them, he chastises them, he exhorts them, but in general he is being very coy, only hinting at in writing what he expounded to them orally.

The Old Testament is much the same way. Try as you will, you cannot reconstruct the temple liturgy from the Old Testament record. We can determine the basic shape of the liturgy, and we know its purpose, but the only record of any words spoken by the priest is the Aaronic benediction he gave at the end of the liturgy. There would have been an assortment of prayers said before and after each action of the liturgy (such as the ritual washing of the hands, or the burning of the incense before the altar, or the placing of the sacrificial lamb upon the altar), but the Scriptures don’t record them. Scripture records there were choirs and songs in the time of David and Solomon, but the Scriptures don’t tell us how they were integrated into the liturgy. Which songs were sung where, and for what purpose? What do the musical notations in the Book of Psalms mean? Why is it divided into five sections, and is there a liturgical significance to that division?

There are huge areas of knowledge essential for the Church that not available in the Bible. If you restrict yourself to the Biblical record, you are trying to figure out how do Church, and how to be a Christian, without a proper instruction manual. Instead, you are like a diviner of tea-leaves, or an astrologer looking for clues in the stars.

Let me give you some easy examples of this. First, Church governance: Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Congregational? These are the three basic forms people get from the Biblical record. Each of them is scripturally valid, but they can’t all three be correct. God is not the author of confusion, and does not allow Himself to be worshiped any way we like. (Nadab and Abihu come to mind.) Second, Church Worship: Liturgical or not? A case can be made from the scripture for any number of different types of church services. Protestants have a bewildering array of “worship styles”, which can be confusing even to Protestants. I once attended a church where the pastor intentionally rearranged the service each week to avoid any semblance of liturgy. I was young, and it was kind of exciting, but it was also confusing, putting the focus on the act of worship rather than the one being worshipped.

There are important doctrinal issues in the Bible that are not adequately and systematically explained. Take baptism, for example. Is baptism a sacrament, as the Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and some Protestants maintain, or is it merely an ordinance – a symbolic gesture, if you will? The answer is not clear in the Bible, because the subject is not treated systematically. Next, what is the proper form of baptism? We do not have a single example of a baptismal ceremony in the bible; the closest we have is Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, but the story does not describe the baptism itself. Was the baptism administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion? If immersion, was it a single immersion, or a three-fold immersion? What were the word’s used when administering baptism? Moreover, we don’t know who was eligible for baptism. Was it believer’s baptism, as most Protestant’s claim, or could babies be baptized? There are biblical arguments that can be marshalled in support of each position, but the Bible is not particularly helpful in resolving the question.

Protestant theologians have turned biblical interpretation into a fine art, with a seemingly elegant set of rules that can be applied to a particular passage or series of passages to determine their meaning. But no matter how helpful each rule might be, as a system it is no more valid than astrology. Both have their own set of pseudo-scientific rules, yet each practitioner applies the rules differently, and comes up with entirely different answers.

The Bible is not what you think it is. It is not an instruction manual, it contains no systematic theology, and it does not constitute even a prologue to systematic theology. Therefore, if you approach Scripture alone, you are bringing your own baggage with you and interpreting Scripture through your own brokenness and sinfulness. You are viewing Scripture through a glass, darkly. You need something else — a guide, if you will. You need Holy Tradition.

The Anaphora of the Apostles Addai and Mari

King Agar receiving the Mandilion from Thaddeus

King Agar receiving the Mandilion from Thaddeus
Encaustic painting.
Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai
Date: after 944 A.D.

The Anaphora, or Elevation, is the part of the Divine Liturgy where the gifts of bread and wine are offered to God the Father and are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, Following the Anaphora is the Epiklesis, the prayer for the Holy Spirit to come down and change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

The Anaphora and Epiklesis are essential parts of the earliest liturgies. Although the words used vary, the basic form has changed little from the time of the Apostles. One of the most ancient examples of the Anaphora is found in the Nestorian liturgy of the Chaldean Church. Although there are other antiquarian Anaphoras in existence, this Anaphora is unique in that it alone is in liturgical use today. It is thought that its current form comes from 3rd century Edessa, a town in upper Mesapotamia, an area which today is the nation of Turkey.

The Anaphora of the Apostles Addai and Mari is interesting both because of its antiquity, and because of its association with the seventy disciples of Christ. One of the seventy was named Thaddeus, and was sent by Thomas the Apostle to Edessa. Addai is the Syriac name of Thaddeus, and Mari was a convert and associate of Addai. Together, Mar Addai and Mar Mari were apostles to Syria and Persia. It is said that Thaddeus/Addai brought with him to Edessa the Holy Mandylion, a cloth imprinted with the image of Jesus.

The structure of the Anaphora should be familiar to anyone who has participated in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. It has three basic parts: the Sanctus, the Intercessions, and the Epiklesis. It is unique in that it does not contain the words of institution, something that is a fixture in later liturgies, and featured most prominently in the Western Rite. It is also interesting in that the Epiklesis is not so much an invocation of the Holy Spirit upon the gifts, but rather within the community.


—      The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and at all times and for ever and ever.

—      Amen.

—      Let your hearts be on high.

—      To thee, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Israel, the glorious King.

—      The offering is being offered to God the Lord of all.

—      It is meet and right.


Worthy of praise from very mouth

and thanksgiving from every tongue

is the adorable and glorious

Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,

who created the world in his grace

5      and its inhabitants in his loving-kindness,

and redeemed the sons of men in his mercy,

and dealt very graciously with mortals.

Thy majesty, o my Lord, a thousand thousand heavenly beings

and myriad myriads of Angels adore

10     and the hosts of spiritual beings, the ministers of fire and of spirit,

glorifying thy Name

with the Cherubim and the holy Seraphim, ceaselessly

crying out and glorifying

and calling to one another and saying:

15     Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty:

the heavens and the earth are full of his glory.

Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is he who has come and comes in the Name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest!

20    And with these heavenly hosts we give thee thanks, o my Lord,

we also thy unworthy, frail, and miserable servants,

because thou hast dealt very graciously with us in a way which cannot be repaid,

in that thou didst assume our humanity

that thou mightest restore us to life by thy divinity,

25    and didst exalt our low estate,

and raise up our fallen state,

and resurrect our mortality,

and forgive our sins,

and acquit our sinfulness,

30    and enlighten our understanding,

and, our Lord and God, overcome our adversaries,

and give victory to the unworthiness of our frail nature

in the overflowing mercies of thy grace.

And for all thy benefits and graces towards us

35     we offer thee glory and honour and thanksgiving and adoration

now and at all times and for ever and ever. R/ Amen.

Do thou, o my Lord, in thy manifold and ineffable mercies

make a good and gracious remembrance

for all the upright and just fathers

40    who were pleasing before thee,

in the commemoration of the body and blood of thy Christ,

which we offer to thee upon the pure and holy altar,

as thou hast taught us,

and make with us thy tranquillity and thy peace

45    all the days of the age,

that all the inhabitants of the world may know thee,

that thou alone art God the true Father,

and thou didst send our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son and thy Beloved,

and he, our Lord and our God,

50    taught us in his lifegiving Gospel

all the purity and holiness of the prophets and apostles

and martyrs and confessors

and bishops and priests and deacons,

and of all the children of the holy catholic Church,

55    those who have been signed with the sign of holy Baptism.

And we also, o my Lord, thy unworthy, frail, and miserable servants,

who are gathered and stand before thee,

and have received by tradition the example which is from thee,

rejoicing and glorifying

60    and exalting and commemorating

and celebrating this great and awesome mystery

of the passion and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And let thy Holy Spirit come, o my Lord,

and rest upon this offering of thy servants,

65    and bless it and sanctify it

that it may be to us, o my Lord,

for the pardon of sins and for the forgiveness of shortcomings,

and for the great hope of the resurrection from the dead,

and for new life in the kingdom of heaven

70    with all who have been pleasing before thee.

And for all thy wonderful dispensation which is towards us

we give thee thanks and glorify thee without ceasing

in thy Church redeemed by the precious blood of thy Christ,

with open mouths and unveiled faces

75    offering glory and honour and thanksgiving and adoration

to thy living and holy and life-giving Name,

now and at all times and for ever and ever.



English translation: A. GELSTON, The Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1992, 48-55


Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

Lex Orandi, Lex CredendiThe Latin phrase “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” is generally translated as the law of prayer is the law of belief.  The reverse is also true; the law of belief is the law of prayer. But what does it mean?

The “Law of Prayer” is a reference to the prayers the worshipping church. So one way of looking at it is that the way we worship reflects the way we believe, and the way we believe is reflected in our worship. This seems reasonable and straightforward. But how does this work in practice?

A great many Protestant communities create their own hymnals. Other Protestant bodies share hymnals across denominational lines. The reason for the variety of Protestant hymnals is they reflect differences in doctrine. Hymnals from a Presbyterian tradition will have a different collection of hymns than a hymnal from the Reformed, which would be different from the Wesleyan or Lutheran hymnal.

Within the Lutheran community in America, there are quite a few different denominations, each with different hymnals reflecting their differing approach to Scripture and differing understanding of the Lutheran Confessions. The hymnals contain different selections of hymns and different liturgies — both of which reflect differences in belief. Even when different hymnals contain the same hymns, there may be differences in translation, or the hymns may be rewritten to reflect changes in both doctrine or societal norms, such as gender-neutral language.

We still have not exhausted the complexity of our discussion. Whereas the older hymnals tended to have just a few different musical settings of the same liturgies, the newer hymnals not only contain different musical settings, but actual variations between the liturgies.  And within liturgical variation are different propers (the changeable parts of the liturgy), and occasionally there may even be differences in the ordinaries (the parts of the service that are supposed to stay the same from week to week). The liturgical variations within the service are presented in multiple columns. Thus, even within the same Protestant denomination there can be wide variation in the conduct of the service from one church to another — and between churches that use the same liturgical settings.

I contend that the beliefs of a church body are reflected in their choice of hymnal. If this is true, then the change of hymnals that tend to take place each generation, in that it changes the worship of the church, reflects an actual change in doctrine.[1]  And when a hymnal contains not merely different liturgical settings, but actual liturgical variations, this reflects the doctrinal disagreements that exist within that church body.

Another way to view this change is to look at the differences between the older and the newer catechetical (or religious instructional) material. Whereas hymnals tend to change each generation, catechetical material seems to change less often. Within the Lutheran Church, catechesis is generally represented by Luther’s Small Catechism, which doesn’t change. However, the explanation of the Small Catechism is usually appended in the same volume. These explanations are quite different between the different Lutheran bodies, and even between versions published by the same Lutheran body.

The most recent Small Catechism with Explanation for the LCMS was published in 2005. The previous version was first published in 1943. There are distinct differences in the Explanations between the two versions (explanations which are presented in question and answer form). In some cases, the differences reflect societal changes. In the 2005 edition the first question asked is “What is a Christian?” This question was not included in the 1943 version, which indicates a considerable societal change in the intervening 60 years.  There are also differences in the questions asked and the answers given. These are subtle, yet significant differences, differences that are debated by pastors of the LCMS.[2]

Lest you think this is a tirade against Protestants, the Roman Catholics have their own issues. It is clear that there is a distinct difference in Roman Catholic worship before and after Vatican II. This is not only because the Vatican allowed the mass to be celebrated in languages other than Latin, but because the actual liturgy changed. There are changes in the prayers of the church in the Latin rite versus the post-Vatican II vernacular rite. This can be demonstrated by the furor that developed when Pope Benedict XVI relaxed the rules governing when and where the Latin rite can be held, primarily because the old Latin rite contained a prayer calling for the conversion of the Jews, a prayer than had not been carried forward into the post-Vatican II rite.

While the Roman Catholics will never formally admit the church has changed (and why would we expect them to), it is clear that it has changed over time  — if for no other reason than the change in the attitude towards the Eastern Orthodox. Meanwhile, the Eastern Orthodox Orthodox Church will often say that it hasn’t changed since the days of the apostles. Yet this isn’t precisely true, either.

It is clear that the Eastern Orthodox liturgy has changed over the years. This can be demonstrated by perusing Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume VII, containing The Liturgy of St. James; The Liturgy of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark; and The Liturgy of the Blessed Apostles. Not only are these clearly different from The Liturgy of St. Basil and The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom used today, but they show evidence of interpolations over time. So the question is why did the Liturgy change; and can it be said that these changes reflect actual doctrinal changes?

The simple answer is yes, the liturgies changed because the doctrine of the church changed. Or rather, as the doctrine of the church was set forth by the ecumenical councils, these definitions were incorporated into the liturgy of the Church. So whereas the early church allowed for a greater variety of expressions of Christianity, the later church found it necessary, in response to heresy, to define the faith more precisely. Thus, while the church in Asia Minor had a certain millenialist quality, this doctrinal option was closed off when the Second Ecumenical Council added the following phrase to the Creed: “whose kingdom shall have no end.”[3]

It is clear that different areas of the Roman Empire developed different liturgies, which appear to be based on common prototypes. This is evidenced in part by the similarities between the different church orders passed down to us as the Didache (~50 A.D.), the Didascalia Apostolorum (~230 A.D.), the Apostolic Traditions (of Hippolytus, ~215 A.D.), and the Apostolic Constitutions (~375 A.D.).  In addition, the different liturgical families contain much the same basic structure and content.[4] The similarity within the liturgical families is even more pronounced. The Liturgy of St. James is roughly comparable to the Liturgy of St. Basil and the Liturgy of St. James;[5] the differences primarily being that some of the more flowery language of the Liturgy of St. James has been condensed and simplified in the later liturgies.

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I can follow the Liturgy of St. James, and recognize nearly all of it. But I can also say that when I first read it, I noticed some commonality between it and what Lutheran’s sometimes call the “Common Service”, or what may be more generally known as the Western Rite. This demonstrates that the Eastern and Western Rites are derived from a common source. One difference I note is the absence of the Epiclesis in the Western Rite, which is the Eucharistic prayer which calls for the Holy Spirit to change the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ.[6]

It is not always clear why the epiclesis is missing from the Protestant version of the Western Rite.  However, we may infer this from the movement of the epiclesis in the Roman Catholic rite to a place prior to the so-called words of institution, which in the western sacramental Churches, is the point at which the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. In the Eastern Church, the definition of when this occurs is left open, but is definitely said to have occurred once the epiclesis has uttered.

What does this all matter, anyway? To the average churchgoer, not much. But in the early church, and among today’s flea-picking theologians, it matters a great deal. The simply movement of the epiclesis within the liturgy represents a profound theological change. In the East there is an appreciation of mystery, and a sense that not everything requires or is even subject to intellectual analysis. In the West, the question of when exactly the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ is not only a matter for intellectual analysis, but the answer to that question actually changes the liturgy.

Lex Orandi, Les Credendi. The way we worship reflects the way we believe. Thus the difference between the so-called contemporary service, what the U.S. Military would call a general Protestant service, and a liturgical service represent fundamental differences in doctrine. Likewise the differences between the Western Rite and the Eastern Rite are reflective of differences in doctrine.

I said all this as preparatory to asking this question: Does the use of the Western Rite in Eastern Orthodox Churches reflect an actual difference in theology?

[1] For example, the latest hymnal of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) contains remarkably few hymns written by Luther himself. What this means I leave to others to determine.

[2] A Lutheran pastor once mentioned that an analysis of the theological differences between the various versions of the Small Catechism’s explanations would make a good subject for a Ph.D. dissertation, which is why I choose not to delve into the subject here.

[3] The editor’s comments in ANF-7 describe this phrase being added to the creed to combat the errors of one Marcellus of Ancyra. Among other things, the Marcellians appeared to hold to the impermanence of the Kingdom of the Son, something they shared in common with the chiliasts, those who held to an earthly temporal Kingdom prior to the permanence of the heavenly Kingdom.

[4] See ANF-7, pp. 793-794

[5] See ANF-7, p. 791

[6] The Epiclesis, from the Liturgy of St. James:

Then, bowing his neck, [the priest] says:—

The sovereign and quickening Spirit, that sits upon the throne with Thee, our God and Father, and with Thy only-begotten Son, reigning with Thee; the consubstantial and co-eternal; that spoke in the law and in the prophets, and in Thy New Testament; that descended in the form of a dove on our Lord Jesus Christ at the river Jordan, and abode on Him; that descended on Thy apostles in the form of tongues of fire in the upper room of the holy and glorious Zion on the day of Pentecost: this Thine all-holy Spirit, send down, O Lord, upon us, and upon these offered holy gifts;

And rising up, he says aloud:—

That coming, by His holy and good and glorious appearing, He may sanctify this bread, and make it the holy body of Thy Christ.

The People.


The Priest.

And this cup the precious blood of Thy Christ.

The People.


Continuity of Worship

Jewish Temple Liturgy

Jewish Temple Liturgy

Jewish worship was liturgical. There was a specific order of service to be followed, and deviation from that order of service was a serious matter (as Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu quickly discovered) (Le 10:1-2). The twice daily sacrifices were accompanied by choirs singing psalms, and accompanied by instruments (2 Chron 5:12-14).

A remarkable continuity of worship practice exists between the Old Testament and the New, between Jewish worship and that of Christians. It is clear from the book of Acts that the earliest Christians were “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house” (Acts 2:46). Moreover, the lame man was healed as “Peter and John about to go into the temple” (Acts 3:3). And again, Luke says of the early church, that “were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch” (Acts 5:12). After the apostles were miraculously released from prison, the report was made to the “captain of the temple and the chief priests”: “Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people” (Acts 5:25). After they had been beaten and released, it is said of the apostles: “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (Acts 5:42).

Following the Babylonian captivity (and perhaps even before then), the Jews had two centers of worship. The most important center of worship was Jerusalem, which was were the temple was, and were the twice daily sacrifices were held. But those who could not be present at the temple gathered at the synagogue, which had its own liturgical style. This was the center of worship for the diaspora, and was where Paul went first on his missionary journeys (Acts 13:14-15; 14:1; 17:1-3; 18:4-6). Even in the book of Acts, it is clear that there was a particular order of worship, with an exhortation following the reading of the law and the prophets. W. O. E. Oesterley, in his book “The Jewish Background of the Christian Liturgy”, writes that basic form of Jewish Liturgy was 1) the reading of Scripture, and 2) prayer. The reading of Scripture included some sort of homily or exhortation; the prayers were varied in form, but followed an over all structure. The prayers tended to focus more on praise, thanksgiving, and confession of sins; intercessory prayers and supplications were secondary. The singing of psalms was interspersed throughout the services, binding the individual elements of the service together.

Christian Community House

Christian Community House

The apostles, those with them in the upper room, and the converts following the feast of Pentecost were all Jews, and all familiar with liturgical worship. They continued in that worship in the temple, but also went from house to house celebrating the eucharist. It would be quite unexpected for Jews, used to liturgical worship, to conduct their services in any other way.

Gabe Martini, in his “On Behalf of All” blog, notes how church architecture has followed, and continues to follow, the architectural model bequeathed to us from the Jews. There is a remarkable continuity of worship between the Old and New Testaments.

You can read more here: Remaking the Temple of the Lord