If you want to understand what the Bible really teaches, it is absolutely crucial that you do not filter the Bible through your denominational preferences or your church’s interpretive tradition. Don’t try to force the Bible to be something it’s not. Don’t try to force to Bible to address modern denominational debates that were not being considered when the Bible was first written.
I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: If we are going to rightly apply the Bible in our own cultural context, we first need to make sure we are understanding it correctly in it’s original cultural context (see Better Bible Study Tip #41: Context is King). Thousands of years separate us from the time when the Bible was written. They were not us. We are not them. We can understand the Bible like they did, but it requires that we put ourselves in their shoes and read scripture in light of their worldview.
To illustrate my point, consider the phrase “I sent you a text.” We all know what that sentence means. But what if someone said “I sent you a text” in the year 1990? The same phrase would obviously mean something different, because “texting” as we know it simply did not exist. If someone said that in 1990, we would conclude that someone was sending somebody a book, or a manuscript or something. The same phrase would mean something completely different simply based on when it was said.
So for example, when Paul wrote to the “bishops” in Philippi, we shouldn’t imagine that Paul thought of a bishop the same way a modern Catholic thinks of bishops. When Paul wrote “be filled with the spirit” (Eph. 5:18), he was writing as a first century Jew, not as a modern charismatic. When Joel say “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”, he wasn’t imagining that people would be saved by saying the “sinner’s prayer.” John the Baptist wasn’t a “Baptist” in the same way we use the word. He was simply a baptizer. When Paul said “the churches of Christ salute you” he wasn’t referring to the Ephesus Church of Christ or the Corinth Church of Christ as if they were a first century denomination as many use the phrase “Church of Christ” today. He was simply referring those first century churches that belonged to Christ.
This principle goes beyond simple phrases, and extends to doctrinal teachings as well. When Paul wrote about the relationship of “faith” and “works”, he wasn’t referring to 16th century Catholic/Protestant debates. I could keep going, but hopefully the point is clear. We need to be careful not to make the biblical authors say more or less than what they actually said and meant in their own context.
To filter the Bible through our own denominational preferences or church traditions that post date the time of the Bible means imposing a foreign historical context on scripture. It means changing the original meaning of scripture. It means altering what the biblical authors were trying to teach. The more we cling to our favorite denominational understandings, the more we put ourselves at risk of misunderstanding scripture. We need to respect the Bible for what it is and what it teaches, and not force it to be what we wish it was or teach what we wish it taught.