by Jefferson David Tant
There is a school of thought among us that Biblical examples are good and instructive, but that an example is not authoritative, i.e., that we cannot bind examples today. I have seen that argument made concerning the Lord’s Supper. While one writer, a young preacher I have known for many years (and there are others,) states that he partakes of the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week in keeping with his upbringing, we should not criticize or condemn others who take it on another day, or by other frequencies. Our attitude towards the “silence” of the scriptures, by which we mean something is not authorized, is criticized, as well as the practice of holding certain Biblical examples as binding.
Do we mean that all Biblical examples are binding? Obviously not. Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. I rode into Jerusalem a while back on a bus and did not feel I was committing a sin by so doing. The principles by which some examples should be considered authoritative are material for further treatment, but in this treatise, we want to examine some arguments and comments that are made against any examples having any authority in and of themselves.
Many years ago a man named Cecil Hook wrote a book entitled “Free in Christ.” He was a member of the church of Christ (and a follower of Carl Ketcherside) and had even led singing for a gospel meeting my father held in LaFayette, Louisiana a long time before. Hook’s premise was that there is very little “binding” and “authoritative” material in the New Testament. “There are not a great many authoritative commands directed to us” (p. 18). He then listed seven ways in which we are directed to obey, such as “explicit order, entreaty…advice of expediency,” etc. “None of these bind a condition or restriction on us unless they foster some principle for the benefit of man which is expedited by the statement or instruction” (p. 18). After some further comments, he then concludes, “This all leads us to a striking and exciting conclusion: It is the principle that should rule our conduct rather than the command. A ‘command’ promoting no principle is not really a command” (p. 19). [Jefferson David Tant, A Look at Hook’s Book, p. 4].
Statements are made that we should not criticize those who use musical instruments in worship, as we only have an example of Christians singing, but instruments are not spoken against. Then the Jewish synagogue is brought into the discussion, as it is evident that Christ must have sanctioned it, although there is no authority for it in the Old Testament.
I had a discussion with some folks from an institutional church some time ago which included their preacher. He insisted that those examples were not binding unless there was a “backup command.” Thus it was the command that was binding rather than the example. The example only showed how the command could be carried out. I then brought up the matter of a plurality of elders in local churches, claiming we only had an example of that. “Oh no, there is a command to appoint elders in every church,” he replied.
I then turned to Titus 1:5 and read the following: “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.” Paul said "city", not "church." Our “example” is in Acts 14:23, where Paul and Barnabas returned to the cities where they had previously labored and “appointed elders for them in every church.” Even among institutional churches, this example is followed, even by some who have appointed women as elders. Now, if no examples are binding, then we would have to accept “one man pastor systems.”
The Lord's Supper
Concerning the Lord’s Supper, we have no command as to the elements. We know what the Lord used, as he observed the Passover with his disciples, but he did not command that we use the same elements. I baptized a young woman some years ago who was a Methodist, and she related that they had used potato chips and Coke as the elements for the Lord’s Supper. I guess that was more “hip.” What command had they violated? And of course, the Mormons use crackers and water. Do we have any right to criticize them? Apparently not, by the reasoning of some.
Here is a quote from our young preacher: “Well, if we have to obey the examples, then we will have to take the Lord’s Supper in an upper room. After all, that’s where they were in Acts 20:7, and where the Lord instituted it in Luke 22:12.” I knew of a church in Abilene, Texas that insisted on this. They had built a one-room meeting place on top of poles several feet high. There was no ground floor, just an “upper room.” But we remember that a certain Samaritan woman asked Jesus about the proper place for worship — a nearby mountain, or in Jerusalem. He responded: "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (John 4:21). Jesus said the location did not matter. It was worship “in spirit and truth” that mattered.
Furthermore, we know that churches met in homes at times, as mentioned in Romans 16:5, I Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, and Philemon 1:2. If we are to bind the example of the upper room, then we must necessarily assume that these houses all had an upper story. But that is not a necessary assumption. Yes, some of the houses may have had an upper room, but we cannot assume that all did. We are also aware that many of the early Christians were among the poor, and it is likely they would have been living in pretty simple dwellings. A further stretch of the imagination, by our brother’s reasoning, is that all the homes in which churches met had third stories. Acts 20:9 says that Eutychus fell from the third floor, not just an “upper” room. Thus the reasoning our brother tries to force upon us doesn’t pass the test.
As to the frequency of the Lord’s Supper, our young preacher stated: “Yet nowhere in the discussion of the memorial in Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, or 1 Corinthians is a specific day or frequency expressly mandated by any inspired person." Well, let’s give some thought to that. In Acts 20:7, Paul arrived in Troas several days earlier but tarried there until he could meet with the disciples on the first day of the week. It is obvious that Sunday was the day they set aside to assemble, or else Paul could have met with them earlier. The church at Corinth was instructed as to what they should do on the first day. In fact, we have the inspired directive recorded for us. “Lay by him in store (par' heautôi tithetô thêsaurizôn)…Treasuring it (cf. Mt 6:19. for thêsaurizô). Have the habit of doing it, tithetô (present imperative)” (Robertson’s New Testament Word Studies). The NASV and some other translations render “On the first day of every week…’ (I Corinthians 16:2). Why is “every” in the text? Notice the Greek scholar’s explanation of “titheto” – present imperative, indicating this is to be done regularly.
I take this as an “inspired person” giving a mandate. Now, why did the Trojans meet on Sunday? Is it probable that they received this model from an inspired teacher? Would that explain why the Corinthians did the same? It is interesting in reading the writings of many Christians (other than the Biblical writers) in the early centuries, that this was the universal practice of the church — collection and Lord’s Supper on the first day. I mention just a few such writers: Barnabas (2nd Century ), Didache (95 A.D.), Justin (150 A.D.), Epistle of the Apostles (150 A.D.), Clement of Alexandria (190 A.D.), Tertullian (200 A.D.), etc.
Where in the world would all the churches come up with the same practice? The most reasonable scenario is that they were following instructions that were given by inspired men. So we see the collection was to be gathered every first day. What seems to be the focus of the saints’ gathering? Acts 20:7 indicates the main purpose was to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Now, think with me a minute. Which has the greater significance? Which has the greater meaning? The collection or the Lord’s Supper? I don’t think anyone would miss the point. Wouldn’t we think that if they were commanded to give every Sunday by divine inspiration, that they would also understand that they were to remember the Lord’s death and resurrection every Sunday as well?
Would not all of this, beginning with the inspired apostles, then to “all the churches” in the first century, on to the practice in following centuries, set an authoritative example for us to follow? Who can argue otherwise?
Another young preacher wrote the following about the “binding example” of the observance of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week: “From these examples comes the phrase, binding examples. This is one of my least favorite phrases derived by man (and it is not because I disagree with the idea that we should follow the pattern set forth in the New Testament). Inspired men of God established practices in the churches that were, and still are, pleasing to God. But, the word binding carries with it the idea of bondage, shackles, chains, Law-keeping, etc, which are not images we should have in our minds when serving God under a New Covenant!”
Then what about “binding commands?” Would that also be among his least favorite phrases? When I think of the Lord’s Supper, and the command to observe it, I do not think of “bondage, shackles, chains, Law-keeping, etc…” I think of how blessed I am to be honored to partake. When I teach the “binding command” for one to be baptized, I do not convey the idea that this person is now going to be chained and in shackles. I convey the idea of freedom from the bondage of sin. But if, in the mind of the one who wrote the aforementioned words, “binding example” is onerous, what would be different about a “binding command?”
Dear reader, we are under a “covenant,” and my understanding is that those who have entered into a covenant are “bound” by the terms of the covenant. Our writer mentioned that we are “under a New Covenant.” Does he consider that as being in bondage, chains, etc.?
Noted scholar J. W. McGarvey had the following comments on Acts 20:7: “This passage indicates both the day of the week in which the disciples broke the loaf, and the prime object of their meeting on that day. It shows that the loaf was broken on the first day of the week; and we have no apostolic precedent for breaking it on any other day” …We are not told, in definite terms, how often it shall be done; but we find that the apostles established the custom of meeting every Lord's day for this purpose. This is an inspired precedent, and with it we comply. We can come to no other conclusion without assuming an ability to judge of this matter with more wisdom than did the apostle" [The Fourfold Gospel].
It is argued that since the Lord did not spell everything out in one verse everything that pertained to the Lord’s Supper, and we have to draw some conclusions, then we are told: “this kind of reasoning is fallacious and the judging that results from it is wrong.”
In the aforementioned book by Cecil Hook, he lists nine details about the Last Supper with Christ (at night, upstairs, in midweek, during another meal, with no women present, one loaf, of unleavened bread, one cup, and fermented wine) and asked: “which exemplified details are binding?” He then concludes that “No examples are binding!” (p. 19) (Ibid.)
Let me state that I believe God allows us to reason about some things. For example, in what concise language in one verse is the plan of salvation laid out? Denominational preachers will camp on John 3:16, or Romans 10:9-10, and ignore Acts 2:38 or 22:16. But God expects us to use common sense and reason and look at “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). After all, didn’t Paul “reason” with the Jews in the synagogues? I find that recorded at least five times in Acts.
We are reminded of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15). “Accurately handling” is from the Greek “orthotomeo…to make a straight cut, i.e. (figuratively) to dissect (expound) correctly (the divine message):--rightly divide.” That certainly implies that God has given us both the responsibility and ability to reason about the revelation God has given us. If we are under obligation to obey only commands, there would be little to “dissect” or “rightly divide” about. We would look to see what commands there are to “do this” or “don’t do that,” and that would be the end of it. There would be very little to reason about in such a case, so Paul’s instruction would have had little meaning.
Paul asked the Thessalonians to pray that “that we may be delivered from unreasonable…men" (II Thessalonians 3:2 KJV). Now it seems that some want to be delivered from reasonable men, i.e., those who “reason” from the Scriptures. They say we cannot “reason” from the Bible to form “necessary conclusions,” because neither they nor examples are authoritative. Yet Paul seemed to have some respect for examples, as he told the Philippians: “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Is this not a command to, among other things, follow examples?
But even those who say we cannot use reason to understand the binding authority of examples or necessary inferences have to use reason themselves. If only commands are binding, do they not “reason” as to which commands are binding and which are not? Christ gave this command to his disciples: “These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: ‘Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans’” (Matthew 10:5). That’s a direct command. Is it binding today? No, because we show reasons why it is no longer binding. And there are several examples of such, where the “command only” adherents must use reason to make a correct application.
Another argument that is made with respect to partaking of the Lord’s Supper says that if we must strictly follow the “one cup” example mentioned in Matthew 26:2 and Mark 14:23, then we sin when we use multiple cups. The view some take is that when Christ said “this cup is the New Covenant in my blood,” he indicated that there were three elements in the Lord’s Supper rather than just two. The bread represented Christ’s body, the fruit of the vine his blood, and the cup the new covenant. But a careful reading of Luke 22 shows this is not a valid point. We generally acknowledge that Luke is the writer who was most diligent in setting things “in order” (Luke 1:3).
Let us note the text in Luke 22: “And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, "Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes." And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 17:17-20).
In the first place, one would assume that when you are having supper, each one present would have his own drinking vessel. That’s just common sense. He told the disciples to “share” the cup. Does that mean they were to break off a piece of the pottery? Obviously not. That means he must have had a larger vessel, and asked each disciple to pour some into his own cup. “Share” is from the Greek “diamerizo; to partition thoroughly (“literally in distribution, figuratively in dissension):--cloven, divide, part” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary). Other translations use “share,” “divide,” or “distribute.” Jesus is using a figure of speech we call metonymy, where the container represents the contents. When someone comments about my wife’s broccoli salad and asks, “Can I have your recipe for that dish?”, they are not interested in the crockery, but in the contents.
Another consideration is the timing in Luke’s narrative. He took the cup (1), then the bread (2), and then the cup (3). Is there a problem? Did they partake of the cup before the bread? No, for Matthew, Mark, and Paul (I Corinthians 11) say the bread was first, and then the cup. What happened in Luke is quite obvious — Christ had them divide the fruit of the vine so they could then drink after partaking of the bread. The “one cup/container” argument just does not fit the facts, and therefore cannot be used as the basis of any doctrinal position. There are not three symbols in the Lord’s Supper, just two.
Paul’s account in I Corinthians 11 reinforces this understanding. He only mentioned two elements—the bread and the cup. Note I Corinthians 11:25: “In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’" As often as we drink what? The cup. And what is the cup? It represents the new covenant which was ratified by his blood. If the cup (crockery) is the new covenant, then when they drank it, the crockery, they certainly would have cut their mouths or lost some teeth when they bit into it. But again, this is metonymy, where the container represents the contents.
What have we done in the preceding paragraphs? We have “reasoned.” Consider again Christ’s command to the apostles in Matthew 10:5. “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans.” That’s a command. Christ goes on in Matthew 10:8: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” We have another command in Mark 16:15: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” Here we have three commands. Are they all binding on us today? As was mentioned earlier, we have to use some reasoning power to determine which commands are binding on us.
But we have those who say we cannot use reason to draw necessary inferences or to determine which examples are binding because there are difficulties with that. Now, if we cannot use reason in these matters, then it logically follows that we cannot use reason in determining which commands to follow. Therefore, there really isn’t any such thing as Bible authority. This reminds us of Judges 17:6: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” What was their problem? There was no authority. It seems there are those today who want to do what seems good to them without being too bothered with too much authority. The grace of God is awesome, but we cannot settle for cheap grace.
The statement is sometimes made that we do not have to have authority for all our practices, as we find no authority in the Old Testament for the synagogues, and since Christ and the disciples went to the synagogues without being charged with sin, therefore we can practice things for which we can find no authority. Then the projection is made to the fact that we have no authority for church buildings, but since we all have them, therefore this is one of the liberties we have to do things for which we have no authority.
That really is a slippery slope that opens the door to all sorts of possibilities for churches — health clinics, playgrounds, fellowship halls, community charities, educational centers, baby-sitting services, animal care seminars, etc. (Yes, I saw an ad in the paper for a local church inviting people to come on Saturday for a session on how to care for your horse!) I wonder if the young people in the early church had camel washes to raise money for the needy or some other project. We had a man at our congregation some years ago who thought a car wash would be a good project.
The young preacher has posted the following: “Brethren do not realize that if their creeds are applied to the Old Testament, their creeds are brought to absurdity and shown to be inconsistent and arbitrary. Another example is the use of the synagogue. Where did the Jews receive positive biblical authority to build synagogues? They are not mentioned in the Old Testament. Did they sin in building them and worshiping in them? Many brethren would also answer this question in the affirmative, and in doing so, be accusing Jesus and His apostles of doing something that is unauthorized by going to the synagogue to worship with Jews who were disobedient to the gospel.” (I am nearing 80 years of age, and must confess that I have never met any brother who said they sinned in building the synagogues. -- jdt)
Our writer, a beloved friend and brother, is somewhat confused here. How could the Jews be disobedient to the gospel when it had not been put into effect? I thought it was put into effect after the death of Christ, not while he was still living and preparing for that event.
Was there authority for synagogues? We know the Hebrew people assembled together for the reading and discussion of the Law. One such occasion is cited in Nehemiah 8:1. Obviously, they didn’t have printed copies of the Torah, so some sort of gathering would be necessitated for the teaching of the Law to certain ones who would then spread the teaching to others. This would require a place to meet. Where? We are not given a lot of information, but we do know there were areas around the tabernacle and temple where people could assemble. There was the courtyard, the priest’s court, the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of Israel (men), and the Women’s Court.
We find Peter and John going to the Temple on a certain day when a beggar spoke to them. “And a man who had been lame from his mother's womb was being carried along, whom they used to set down every day at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, in order to beg alms of those who were entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he began asking to receive alms” (Acts 3:2-3). Why were the people going to the temple? The text says it was “the hour of prayer.” Is it far-fetched to assume they could also gather to be instructed in the Law? They had to meet somewhere for this purpose.
When they were in Babylonian captivity, they had no access to the Temple grounds, and besides, the Temple had been destroyed. So, where could they meet and receive instruction during the 70 years of captivity? Could they have set aside a place for such meetings? Would it have been called a “synagogue?” The ISBE states: “The more devout Jews, having no sanctuary or altar, no doubt felt drawn from time to time, esp. on Sabbath and feast days, to gather round those who were specially pious and God-fearing, in order to listen to the word of God and engage in some kind of worship.” Yes, I know “synagogue” is a Greek term, and I confess I don’t know Hebrew well enough to know the equivalent. But “sun-ago” simply means “to lead together, i.e. collect or convene; specially, to entertain (hospitably):--+ accompany, assemble (selves, together), bestow, come together” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary). The synagogue was simply a place set aside for their gatherings. It doesn’t matter if it was called a “meeting place,” “synagogue” or “gathering place.”
This same logic would apply to our church buildings. We are told to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves together…” (Hebrews 10:25). That necessitates a place to meet, as a place is inherent in the command to assemble. When Noah was told to build an ark, he was not told what tools to use. Tools would have been necessarily implied in the command to build. Philip was told to “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26). A means of transportation was inherent in the command, whether walk, horseback, donkey, chariot, etc. This all comes under what we call an “expediency.” The tools to build the ark, or the tools to facilitate meeting together neither add to, change, nor take away from the simple command to “build” or “meet.” If that is an “absurdity” or “inconsistent and arbitrary,” then so be it.
It is interesting that James uses “synagogue” in his admonition to his readers. “For if a man comes into your assembly…” (James 2:2). “Assembly” is from the Greek “sunagoge,” and is rendered “synagogue” in several translations. So there were Christians that had a synagogue. That would not refer to a home, but to a place set apart for their assemblies. If this doesn’t authorize a church building — synagogue — meeting place, then I don’t know what would. James was an inspired writer, and obviously gave his implied approval for such a place. And by the way, in the reading I have done about synagogues, I have not seen that they had “upper rooms.”
With respect to instrumental music in worship, the attitude is that the Bible doesn’t condemn it. I have had correspondence with a brother in New Mexico about this, and he is firm on this point. He works with a church that does not use it but is glad to be in fellowship with those who do use it. In my discussion with him, I have mentioned the aforesaid church that used potato chips and Coke. He replied, “But the Lord told us what to use.” Exactly! The Lord does not need to mention all 10,000 items in the grocery store to tell us what not to use. Now, did the Lord tell us what kind of music to use in worship? How about “sing?” I believe there is an exact parallel. He told us what instrument to use, the voice (Ephesians 5:16). He did not need to mention the scores of instruments we were not to use—drums, guitars, lyres, violins, etc. We understand the principle with respect to Noah’s ark. When God said “gopher wood,” did he need to list every other kind of wood on the face of the earth to be sure Noah understood? We know the answer.
When the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity, they set about to restore the priesthood and all things associated with it. They went through the genealogies to establish just who was from the tribe of Levi. As they were going through the names, they came to certain ones. “Of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai, the Gileadite, and was named after them. These searched among their ancestral registration, but it could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood” (Neh. 7:63-64). Why were these men excluded? Because their names were not written. They could not establish authority. The record was silent.
Why were Nadab and Abihu punished? Because they “offered strange fire before Jehovah, which he had not commanded them” (Leviticus 10:1). Evidently, God had been silent about the particular fire they used. The fact that he did not forbid or condemn the fire they used did not give them permission to use it.
Why could Christ not be a priest under the Old Testament Law? “For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests” (Hebrews 7:14). God did not tell Nabad and his brother what fires not to use, nor did he tell Moses the tribes which were not to produce priests. If that is not an argument for respecting the silence of the Scriptures, then I guess I fail to understand simple logical deductions.
We must consider the first church, the only church under the direct influence of inspired men. All church historians agree that the early church did not use instruments. In fact, they did not come into use until the late 600s, several years after things had digressed so far as to have a pope. Who were the first converts? Jews! People who were accustomed to instruments in the Temple worship. Now, all of a sudden, they no longer use instruments. There must have been a reason. If the Lord had wanted them to use instruments, surely he would have directed the apostles to so instruct the early Christians. But he didn’t! So, by what reasoning can we assume that God would approve of instruments at this late date? Just because he didn’t tell us not to? Or just because he didn’t tell us not to use potato chips and Cokes on the Lord’s Table? The same reasoning works for both.
And why did they use instruments in the Old Testament? Because God so commanded! When good king Hezekiah was restoring the worship as it should be, “He then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad, the king's seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the LORD through His prophets” (II Chronicles 29:25). If anyone can find a like command in the New Testament, I’ll move the piano in tomorrow. If God commands it, I’ll do it.
There is an interesting statement in Hebrews 9:1, as the author is contrasting the Old and New Covenants. “Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary.” There is a message in those words. “Even the first covenant had regulations!” There is a strong implication there. If I should say to a 16-year-old son, “Look, even your 10-year-old brother knows how to make up his bed,” what is the implication? If a 10-year-old can do that, then surely a 16-year-old can manage to make his bed. More is expected of the 16-year-old. We have those who think we are too strict in binding patterns or examples, that we should be free to add or change, that we should be more inclusive, and not be so condemning of the denominations around us. We should extend more grace and be more welcoming to innovations. Well, to those who maintain that the New Testament does not have that many rules or regulations for the worship and work of the church, let them explain away Hebrews 9:1. The writer’s intent is obvious. If even the first covenant (which was inferior) had regulations of divine worship, then it should be obvious that the new covenant (which was superior) would likewise have regulations of divine worship. That being true, are we not obligated to respect them? If not, why not?
Did God expect Israel to respect the “regulations of divine worship?” We know he did. By what reasoning can we conclude that the New Covenant has looser directions for us and that we are free to do pretty much what we please?
What is the purpose and object of our worship? To please self, or to please God? I think the reader can figure that one out. If the object is to please God, then shouldn’t we let him give us the information we need to carry this out? And where would we go to learn what pleases God? If I want to give my wife a birthday present, I try to give her something that would please her. A chain saw might be something I would like, but it is not my intent on her birthday to honor me. I know that are some who want to please themselves. I had a discussion with a woman in the Lutheran church some time ago, and when the matter of instrumental music was brought up, she remarked, “I could never give up instrumental music.” She was saying that since she enjoyed it so much, it really didn’t matter what the Bible said, or what God might want.
Peter instructs us that “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5). We know that our lives are to be offered to God as an acceptable sacrifice. Romans 12:1 conveys the same message. Should not our worship also be acceptable to God?
On one occasion a lawyer tested Christ “saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" (Luke 10:25-26). If one were to ask Christ today how to worship God acceptably, is it possible Christ might answer, "What is written in the Word of God? How does it read to you?"
Christ and Authority
The whole tenor of attitudes that are seen in some looks like an attempt to reduce the matter of authority to a few choice commands. They know they cannot eliminate authority altogether, but they seemingly want to “loosen the reins” a little and give us more freedom to do what we want. That would also mean we should not be so quick to criticize those in denominations that are not according to our “traditions.”
It is interesting to note Christ’s own attitude towards the authority of the Father. In speaking with his disciples, he told them in John 15:10: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.” He encouraged his disciples to keep his commandments, even as he had kept his Father’s commandments. Imagine that. Even Jesus recognized, respected, and obeyed commandments.
We have recorded a conversation with the Jews who sought to kill him. “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner’” (John 5:19). Was he following his Father’s example? Then in John 5:30, “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Dear reader, if Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had such respect for divine authority while in the flesh, can we afford to do any less?
What is the ultimate end of the road that some are taking who reject patterns, examples, the silence of the Scriptures, and other approaches to authority? Following is a quote from Virgil Fiske, who lives in Northern New Mexico. He was a preacher in the church for 30 years, but has been “enlightened.” He “came out of the Church of Christ” some time ago. This is an excerpt from an article he wrote in 2012.
“First principles, the essentials, the basics of Christianity have dominated my mind lately. I was asked which denomination is right, what rules are required to be saved. I had just started a study in John, and it suddenly yelled at me. Since John's Gospel was written that we might believe and have eternal life (John 20:31), then it can be accepted that the Gospel of John contains everything we need to know and believe. It must also contain every behavior required to gain salvation. Therefore, it could be understood that the rest of the information presented in the NT comes as an illustration of how the basics presented by John play out in the life of the first century church. Should one agree with many scholars that John's Gospel was the last text written before the canonization of Scripture, then it can be assumed that any emphasis on doctrinal concepts not mentioned is excessive. Since John's Gospel contains little regarding baptism, Communion, church leadership and attendance, the contribution, worship styles, women's roles in the church, etc., how can these issues be areas over which we bicker and divide?! If we can recognize the basic principles of love and forgiveness demonstrated by Christ's sacrifice as the foundation of our faith, then all the other behavior of Christ-like people should not divide us. Jews worshipped one way, Gentiles worshipped another, and though the discussion in Acts 15 was heated, the conclusion was that both groups were accepted by God, though radically different.”
What do we learn from this? Since Matthew 4:4 is not in John, then I guess we are free to pretty much ignore Christ’s words when he said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” And what about Paul’s words to Timothy? “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
My father, Yater Tant, told of a discussion he was having with a woman about Mark 16:16 and its teaching on baptism. She remarked, “that’s not in my Bible.” My father insisted that it was, and she insisted it was not. My father asked for her Bible and turned to the passage. Sure enough, it was not there! She had cut it out! Problem solved. By Fiske’s reasoning, such mundane matters as the Lord’s Supper, women preachers, infant baptism, etc., should not be made matters of doctrine. They should be matters of opinion, and should not divide us.
While Virgil Fiske has probably not cut everything out of his Bible except John, he has reduced the rest of the Bible to interesting commentary, but having no real authority to guide us. Since John’s gospel is supreme in his mind, but baptism is relegated to being not vital, I would be curious to know what he does with John 3:5, where “Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Another consideration is that the word “repent” in any form is not in the gospel of John. Therefore, using Fiske’s reasoning, repentance has nothing to do with salvation? Who can believe it?
Early in this article, I cited the writing of Cecil Hook, and as I conclude, let me tell you where the thinking of Hook and those who follow his philosophy leads. Hook refers to the Ethiopian eunuch in his concluding chapter. Since the eunuch did not have a copy of the New Testament, when he got home, “there is no church to meet with there for the gospel is not yet preached among the Gentiles. So, he will have to ‘forsake the assembly’ before he assembled the first time. He cannot go to worship because there is no worship service in the church. He cannot be taught and edified because there is no other disciple in his whole country to do it….He does have a copy of Isaiah and, perhaps some of the other Old Testament Scriptures” [Hook, pp. 146, 147]. Hook then quotes Micah 6:8: “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee, but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God.” He then concludes: “God still wants the same response from man. A man need not have the New Testament writings to know the will of God for holy living…The treasurer can continue to be a devout disciple in the same general manner that he was a devout Jew.” [ibid, p. 148].
Please note some rather bold and far-fetched assumptions Hook made.
- No apostle or other Christian ever came to Ethiopia to be with the eunuch;
- No inspired man ever wrote to the eunuch to give further instruction;
- No direct communication (inspiration) from God was ever given to the eunuch to guide him, such as happened to Philip and others (I Corinthians 14:3, Romans 12:6, Acts 21:9);
- Thus he was incapable of teaching others anything of the fullness of the gospel.
Hook took 148 pages to prepare us for the conclusion that we don’t need the New Testament in order to go to heaven! Therefore, we don’t even need to know about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Who can believe it? Obviously, I am not claiming that all who take a looser approach to Biblical authority will go as far as Hook, but once the journey has begun towards a looser approach to authority, where is the stopping place? Some may argue that there are stopping places, but who will make the decision about where to stop and what authority will they use to substantiate their claim?
The young preacher quoted earlier in this material has ceased working with a faithful church and became a pastor with a Christian Church in Arizona. From that, he has evolved into a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and accepts instrumental music in worship and baptizing (sprinkling) babies. He has written a lengthy treatise on baptism, which has many good things to consider. But one statement he made illustrates the problem of going down the wrong path and veering from the “narrow way” (Matthew 7:13).
“There are believers in the New Testament whose salvation was recognized prior to or without baptism (Luke 23:43; Acts 10:43), but it must be admitted these cases are exceptional, and immersion in water as the initial manifestation of repentance and conversion to Christ is biblically normative (Acts 2:41; 8:12, 36; 16:15, 33; 18:8).”
(This statement was made before his conversion to Presbyterianism.)
He still states the importance of baptism, but it appears that he is opening the door for exceptions. If God wants to make an exception, I’ll leave that up to him, but I’m not going to make exceptions for God. The fact that he uses the old Baptist line about “the thief on the cross,” is beyond my understanding. Abraham was not baptized, nor were Moses or Elijah. We all understand that they lived and died before the New Testament ever came into effect. So did the thief. He could not have obeyed Christ’s words in Mark 16:16, for he was dead and buried before those words were ever uttered.
With respect to Cornelius in Acts 10, this is another denominational argument seeking to remove the necessity of baptism. Yes, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household before he was baptized. But when Peter recounts the events in chapter 11, note his words: “And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, 'Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning" (Acts 11:13-15).
The inspired record says that Cornelius had to hear “words” before he could be saved. Peter says the Holy Spirit fell on them as he “began to speak,” indicating that Cornelius had not heard the gospel as yet. The Holy Spirit did not save the man and his household. The Holy Spirit was a sign to the Jews that Gentiles were also qualified to receive God’s message of salvation. If Cornelius was saved when the Holy Spirit fell on him, then he was not only saved without baptism, but he was saved without faith, for “…faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). At that point, he had not heard the word of Christ.
I am confident that this young preacher has made these points about the thief and Cornelius in times past, but evidently he no longer has the same understanding he once had, and I am saddened by that.
The point is that once you start down that road, there seems to be no stopping place, and the church becomes more and more like the world. We can look to history to verify this quite easily. Consider the following quotes from material prepared by Ed Harrell concerning the thinking that took place well over 100 years ago. From the “small” departure in establishing the “voluntary” American Christian Missionary Society in Cincinnati in 1849, we have the defenders of this, as well as the instrumental music in 1859 in Midway, Kentucky espousing the following line of thinking.
“The Bible contains but few specific details, but it does contain every principle of action the human family will ever need. It assumes the common sense of the race and thus comes along in beautiful adaptation to the new conditions of government, customs, dress, learning and necessities of mankind. It is a painful and fateful error to see Christians stand aloof from the new obligations, duties and possibilities of the present, because the Bible does not contain specifications…such seek in vain for a “Thus saith the Lord…” [David Edwin Harrell, Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. II, p. 10, quoting M. M. Goode, MO Christian Lectures series, 1884].
Thus we have a new view, which is socially mandated, with its inevitable innovations.
“In regard to the methods employed for preaching the gospel to the world, and all benevolent ministrations of the church, and all aids to its service and worship, Christians have no positive specifications and they must be governed by general laws and principles applied according to their best judgment.” [Ibid, p. 11].
Is there anything we can learn from the past that will help us today? Harrell goes on to quote Daniel Sommer’s observations as to the events that transpired.
“As time advanced such of those churches as assembled in large towns and cities gradually became proud, or, at least, sufficiently worldly-minded to desire popularity, and in order to attain that unscriptural end they adopted certain popular arrangements such as the hired pastor, the church choir, instrumental music, man-made societies to advance the gospel, and human devices to raise money…they divided the…disciples.” [Ibid, p. 84, quoting Daniel Sommer].
Although Sommer wrote that many decades ago, the words could have been written yesterday. The division that took place from 1850 to 1900 produced three separate bodies — the independent churches of Christ which sought to hold on to the Biblical principles that guided the early church, the Christian Church, out of which came the ultra-liberal Disciples of Christ, which has openly admitted it is a denomination.
While the Christian Church denomination still makes claims about its conservative stance, time is taking its toll there, as I personally know of Christian Churches that have accepted for membership those who have been baptized by sprinkling, and who have appointed men as elders who do not have believing children.
And what’s my point? Once the camel gets its nose under the flap of the tent, it will, before long move completely in, humps and all. And once you take the wrong turn at the fork in the road, the longer you drive, the further away you get from where you need to be.
Many long years ago my grandfather, J. D. Tant, was known for a phrase he often used in his writings—“Brethren, we are drifting.” If he were in the land of the living today, he would be saying the same thing.
The present division in the Lord’s church began in the 1950s, so we now have the second or third generation of elders and preachers in churches from that time, men who did not experience the debates and discussions over the matter of authority. The attitude towards authority was the underlying principle then, and now we are facing the same issues again.
Many are saying they want more grace and fewer rules. Grace is vital, but grace is not cheap. Grace is coupled with an obedient faith. Consider that God gave Jericho to Israel. “The LORD said to Joshua, "See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and the valiant warriors” (Joshua 6:2). God went on to give further instructions in the succeeding verses. Now note Hebrews 11:30: “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.” This is a perfect example of salvation by grace through obedient faith. They didn’t have to fight for the city. They did not earn the victory, God gave it to them. When? When their faith moved them to obedience. The same can be said about Naaman’s cure from leprosy in II Kings 5 and countless other stories in God’s Word. We do not earn our salvation by our deeds, but God has every right to put whatever conditions on our salvation that he desires.
Others may do as they wish, but I will still appeal to Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls.’ But they said, 'We will not walk in it'” (Jeremiah 6:16).