It is reported that in ancient Greece, Diogenes of Sinope [412/404 – 323 BCE] walked the streets of Athens with a lantern "looking for an honest man."1 Were Diogenes alive today, I can imagine him walking through the streets of __________ (you fill in the blank) looking for a Bible-based Christian church. Note that I did not say Bible-believing (of which many make the claim) but, rather, Bible-based. And although by "Bible" I mean specifically the "New Testament," I recognize that Jesus and all of his early followers were Jews, for whom Hebrew Scriptures were the Bible.
What would a Bible-based church look like? The basic principle that I would use in answering this question is that Judaism had an orientation to orthopraxy 2 (not orthodoxy), so that it is reasonable to assume that Jesus and his earliest followers also had such an orientation. It seems obvious that Jesus’s orthopraxy was of a more "liberal" variety than was common for his time (a point that comes through loud and clear in his Good Samaritan parable); but this does not alter the fact that his orientation was to proper behavior, not "right thinking."
Given this fact, I would identify four "fundamental" features of a Bible-based Christianity:
If "proper behavior" was illustrated by his Good Samaritan parable, it was stated (in a suggestive, rather than definitive manner) in the famous "sheep and goats" passage of Matthew 25: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite strangers in, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. Indeed, in this passage the "suggestions" are given force by making them a "plan of salvation": if one makes these "commands" the center of one’s life, one will spend eternity in a pleasant place; if one does not, well . . . .
Where does one find a Christian church that makes these commands central, rather than tangential? It’s not that these commands are totally ignored, but the tendency is merely to give them lip service, and to emphasize, rather, belief and ritual as the heart of Christianity. How utterly unbiblical!
Paul had the insight to recognize that having a set of rules does not guarantee that those rules will be followed well. Even if one agrees that one should follow the above "commands," and intends to follow them, one will find that at times one will fail to do what one knows is right, and at other times will do that which one knows is wrong (see Romans 7). Paul’s "solution" to this problem was indwelling by the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5) That is, if one experiences such indwelling, Paul suggested, this will help one "follow the straight and narrow."
Unfortunately, although it appears that the Holy Spirit played a prominent role in early Christianity 3 Paul gave (in his extant writings) no instructions regarding how to "attract" the Holy Spirit. And what contribution have Christians made to this problem since Paul’s time? Nothing of which I am aware. They haven’t even arrived at a conception of "Holy Spirit" that would be relevant for today.
In I Corinthians 12 Paul made an analogy between a body and a congregation, noting that just as a body consists of a number of diverse parts that, however, are connected one to another, and work together for the good of the body, so should members of a congregation be diverse in their characteristics, and work together in harmony. Doing what? Engaging in the sorts of activities specified in Matthew 25, of course.
But where are the Christian churches wherein there is recognition that the commands of Matthew 25 are best pursued not (only) by individuals acting alone, but by individuals acting in concert with others? Where are the Christian churches where that is central rather than "services"? What an inappropriate name for meetings whose orientation is not to service in a Matthew 25 sense but, rather, to listening to a minister or priest babble on about something, hymn-singing, creed-repetition and the like!
One of the interesting features of a Bible-based church is that once it has derived the above from the Bible, it will discard the Bible—and on the authority of the Bible itself! How else is one to interpret Jesus’s reference to leaving a Helper (i.e., the Holy Spirit) in John’s gospel (chapters 14, 15, and 16)?! In, e.g., Matthew 25 we are given general instructions, but in real-world situations we need more specific help. What Jesus is telling us here is that for specific help we need to look to the Holy Spirit.
We are not, unfortunately, informed by Jesus (in the gospels) regarding how to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Paul’s body analogy, though, seemingly suggests an answer: If a given congregation functions as a body does, its members might receive guidance from the Holy Spirit. But where are the Christian congregations where such guidance is even being sought? I know of none!
I have been a churchgoer for most of my life, but have never even heard of a Christian church that conforms to the above principles. What a pathetic comment to make regarding Christianity! Who was it who said that Christianity conquered the world, and that in the process the world conquered Christianity?
Diogenes is believed to be a founder of the Cynic school of philosophy. He left no writings behind, and is known primarily through Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, written by Diogenes Laėrtius, who lived some time after 200 CE.
"Orthopraxy" comes from Greek words meaning "correct action" or "correct activity."
This topic is discussed in: Stevan L. Davies, "Jesus the Healer: Possession, Trance, and the Origins of Christianity," (1995),