Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 10, 1959
NUMBER 18, PAGE 1,10-14

How To Establish Divine Authority

Roy E. Cogdill

(This is the fourth in a series of articles reviewing a book recently published, "We Be Brethren", by Brother J. D. Thomas of Abilene Christian College.)

In preceding articles of this review we have noticed the disposition to rely upon human wisdom, the trend toward an educated and professional clergy, and the claim by our brother J. D. Thomas that we need some "new rules of interpretation" to solve our problems today of congregational cooperation and caring for orphans and other destitute persons who are the charge of the church. We have observed our brother's effort to attribute our difficulty to "methods of interpretation" while we believe in reality it is due to the wrong attitude toward divine authority and the Word of God. We have examined our brother's claim that the "same old rules of interpretation" that have enabled us to understand what the Bible teaches concerning baptism for the remission of sins, the scheme of redemption, and the place of the church in God's plan, cannot solve the problems confronting us today in these present-day promotions but we must have some new rules to guide us. We have also taken notice of our brother's willingness and his confidence in his ability to evolve these "new rules" for all of us because he is one of the "trained thinkers" of our generation.

A major part of his endeavor in the book is a very labored effort to find some "new way" that would justify all of the innovations that have been introduced into the function and organization of the church in this generation. Brother Thomas is strongly in favor of all of them. He draws the line against none and is able at least to see that if one of these modern promotions can be justified in the work of the church, then all of them can. I am sure that he has satisfied himself and perhaps a good portion of the "institutional" minded brethren. We have heard of some endorsements of his book in the Gospel Advocate by Guy N. Woods, Tom Warren, and others of the extreme liberals among us. We have information also that at least one teacher in a Harding College Bible (?) class has required it to be read as a part of the course. The administration of Abilene College has not had the courage to let it be known that they endorse the positions taken in the book, though of course they do, we are sure. They endorse the man who wrote it and his work and support him in his teaching and of course he teaches in his classes in the school what he writes and believes. The school administration, Don Morris, president, and Paul Southern, head of the Bible department, both said in a letter that they had not read the book. But that has been some time ago and surely they have been interested enough to read it by now. Until they repudiate the teaching of the book by this member of their faculty and their subordinate, they must be held responsible for it. They will probably get around to letting it be known that they are in complete agreement with the author of this book, if there isn't too great a furor raised about it and it doesn't prove too unpopular. Whenever they do endorse it, if they do, it will mean a complete reversal upon the part of the administration of this school on the question of church support for schools like Abilene. A dozen years ago when this question was being discussed all over the country among churches of Christ and when there was an overwhelming sentiment among brethren against making of such schools church institutions by putting them in the budget of the churches, Don Morris hastened to deny that he was responsible for the effort headed by Robert Alexander to put the school in the church budgets. Though there had been full page ads for the campaign for "three million" urging church support and the whole thing was being promoted through the churches and he had taken part in the speech-making that had been done, Don Morris denied any responsibility for the effort and made a "goat" out of Robert Alexander, his chief promoter in the campaign. An endorsement upon his part now would therefore mean a complete reversal on the question, if he stood by his convictions then. In any event, he and the head of the Bible department, as well as the Board of directors and others responsible for the school are responsible for what is being taught and I suppose that Thomas, Roberts, and others of the faculty are teaching what they believe about these matters. Christians who are disposed to send their children to such schools should take notice that they will be taught that churches of Christ should build and maintain such institutions as Abilene College, Harding College, David Lipscomb, and the others because as the author of "We Be Brethren" says, such schools are truly "the work of the Lord" and are "an expedient for spreading the cause of Christ". This is just a part of the extreme liberalism that is being poured into the minds of the young people who are being sent to such schools for a "Christian Education".

A recent article in the Firm Foundation criticizing the book was given hearty editorial endorsement by Reuel Lemmons, the editor of that paper. I suppose he endorsed the criticism voiced for he made no reservations in taking the writer under his wing because of what he had written. I am wondering if he actually would dare be involved in any difference with Abilene Christian College. He went to Tennessee and made the school brethren think he was in perfect agreement with them on present day issues and then came back to Austin and made faces at them as being on the extreme liberal "fringe" of these questions. He should not count too heavily on these Tennessee brethren not seeing a copy, now and then, of the Firm Foundation and even reading it. He has reminded us for some time of the description of a man when somebody asked where he stood on a certain issue and the reply was made, "He is strong on both sides". You can never tell by what he writes in one issue what his position is even then, much less what it will be in the next issue.

It is certain though that those struggling to keep from drowning in their own sea of sophistry and human reason will seize upon at least some things in the book, "We Be Brethren" in the hope that they will serve as a substitute for divine authority and Bible teaching for the idols they have determined to serve. This gives the time and space being used in this review reasonable justification.

An Effort To Find Authority

One thing to be marked down to the credit of our brother is the fact that he seemed to recognize that if the "sponsoring church" type of brotherhood agency or the "human organization" type of brotherhood agency are to be proven right, some sort of authority needs to be established by Bible teaching for them. Even though he went at the matter backwards, in complete reverse, as we have pointed out by trying to show that they have not been excluded without making any effort to show that they are included in God's plan, he spent more than one hundred pages of his book, Part I and Part II, trying to make us think that there is some way, even though it must be a new one, by which we can understand that these modern methods of cooperation among churches of Christ are right It has been our contention all along that the whole problem is one of "divine authority". The church is a realm over which Jesus Christ exercises absolute authority. It is the only realm over which he is head.

Matt. 28:18-20. "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world"

Paul Declares That Christ Is The Head Over All Things To The Church:

Eph. 1:19-23. "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all."

If these problems are "in the church", if they are of concern "to the church", if they are related" to the church", if they are involved in the matter of what the church can do and through what organization Gods purposes in the church can be accomplished, then the question whether Christ has authorized them is fundamental. Moreover if Christ has authorized these modern arrangements, they are taught in the scriptures in some manner for they are the only source of divine authority. It seems that every Bible student and all who have any respect for the word of God would recognize that.

In the Birmingham debate with Guy N. Woods we presented four charts illustrating the fact that the fundamental question of the whole problem is one of divine authority. Has Christ authorized what is being done? How may we establish that we have divine authority from the scriptures for what we do in the church? Brother Woods made no attempt to answer the argument that God has specifically authorized an organization for executing that which he has commanded the church to do, and has therefore excluded every other organization for the accomplishment of this work of the church. That is, He has excluded the church building and maintaining any other organization than that which he has specified. Woods said that he agreed with the principles laid down concerning authority but that these were not in issue in the discussion because we were not discussing a proposition concerned with the question of authority. He doesn't agree with Brother Thomas, even if he did endorse his book with some reservation. Brother Woods does not think that we need divine authority for the benevolent organizations which the church can build and maintain. Brother Thomas thinks that we must at least develop us some "new rules" of interpretation that will help us to see that divine authority in the scriptures has not "excluded" such institutions whether it has "included" them or not. He thinks that if they are not specifically excluded then they must be included and that is what the silence of the scriptures mean.

Brother Thomas recognizes and states several times that the Bible teaches in three ways; 1) command, 2) approved examples, 3) necessary inference. (page 8, paragraph 2). He says:

"To return to the principles of interpretation of the restoration movement we remember that we have always believed that pattern authority was established by commands (or express statements); by necessary inference; and by approved precedents or approved apostolic examples" (page 53 — para. 4)

Some brethren among the promoters do not believe this. There is much talk about our doing many things for which we have no authority at all. Evidently we have quite a number of those who are trying to preach the Gospel who do not believe that we need Bible authority of any kind for what we think we need or should do. Cleon Lyles said in a recorded speech at Tulsa, Oklahoma, that he did not believe, and did not think he had ever believed, that we must have command, approved example, or necessary inference, in order to have Bible Authority. He was advocating church hospitals (Church of Christ Hospitals with Church of Christ doctors and nurses, as Keeble advocates now — and Church of Christ needles to stick us with) as far back as 1943, so I guess he never has believed that it was necessary to have Bible authority at all.

E. R. Harper tried to get the Herald of Truth in at the door labeled "principle eternal" in the debate with Tant. Tom Warren and Roy Deaver and others of the "liberal fringe" have tried to squeeze human benevolent organizations in at the door of the "law of love", whatever that is, if it is.

Even our Brother Thomas after avowing that he recognizes that these three methods of establishing Bible teaching or authority have always been sufficient, throws them out of the window and alleges that we have always believed in these and in the past they have been adequate, but we need some new rules to solve these new problems of institutionalism or cooperation. (See page 5, last line, page 6, para. 3, page 8, para. 2)

Most of the institutional crowd have been saying that these are not new problems but these "methods" have always been used. Some have probably already sensed the fact that if these are new problems, then there can not be any authority in the Bible for such "methods", as they describe them. Either these human arrangements have not always existed or there has not always been opposition to them or they are not new in any sense. You can take your choice. Brother Thomas chooses to say they are "new" and we must have some "new rules of interpretation" to solve them. If such arrangements existed in the beginning (and of course they are not even hinted at in the Bible) by divine authority, has Satan been loafing on the job in failing to oppose such good works as these? What other Bible doctrine, or work of righteousness, or divine ordinance has he been silent about through the centuries? We still affirm that Brother Thomas, in his admission that these problems are new, has made a fatal admission for his cause; and his claim that we need some "new rules" to understand what the Bible teaches concerning them is a fatal admission of the wrong attitude toward the Word of God.

We want to examine the "Standard Diagram of Authority" invented by Brother Thomas for he proposes this as the solution to all of our problems. He makes interesting claims for it. What made it the "Standard" except that it is his idea, I do not learn from his book. Maybe that is just the name of it. One thing you cannot accuse our brother of is the lack on complete confidence in his own wisdom and ability. He not only has the pharisaic disposition concerning his own attitude being pious and right, "counting himself only to be righteous and setting all others at nought", but he has discovered "an easy-to-understand principle that some have overlooked — a way that is really as simple as our ordinary thinking (emphasis mine — R E. C.) and understandable by anyone — for knowing when and how examples teach us — both when a matter is clearly optional for us; and also when definite, clear, authoritative and "binding patterns" are revealed to us by God's Word. The attempt is then made to apply the principles to the various "problem areas" of tension in the brotherhood in the hope that we can all see God's will clearly." (Pages 7,8)

"In addition to the above major premise containing the statement of the "pattern principle" of our study, Part II of this book, the Solution section, has set forth one other major contribution (emphasis mine — R. E. C.) toward New Testament interpretation, that of the Standard Diagram of Authority." (Page 92.)

"To illustrate the above points, let us note that the scripture authorized Gopher wood for Noah's ark, but was silent as far as Pine wood is concerned for the same purpose. This example fits the brotherhood slogan, in that we recognize that pine would have been sinful and wrong, but only because on the Standard Diagram of Authority (emphasis mine, R. E. C.) Pine wood for Noah's ark could be classified in no other place than as an excluded specific (Box "ES" type) matter. On the other hand, the scripture, is also silent as to riding in aeroplanes, using black boards or visual aid equipment, printed books of sermons, and a thousand other things that all of us use constantly. Yet we say that the term "silent" in the brotherhood slogan does not apply to these; but the only way we can know that we are correct in this judgment is again, by classifying them on the "Standard Diagram of Authority." (page 47)

"Only by this method (emphasis mine — R. E. C.) can we clearly see how some things about which the scripture is "silent" are sinful and wrong and based on human authority rather than God's; while other things about which the scripture is "silent" are perfectly scriptural and should be used". (page 47 — para. 2)

Now I confess that I cannot make such distinctions in the silence of the scriptures — not even with my brothers help. If the Bible says nothing that can be construed by the ordinary meaning of the language to include a practice, the silence of the Word of God forbids our practicing that thing, no matter where Brother Thomas classifies it on the "Standard Diagram of Authority". His dictum will not solve the problem for us. Those aids included within the scope of the command — either necessarily essential or optional — cannot be classified as something about which the scripture is silent as we have shown in a previous article. When the scriptures command "teach" without prescribing the specific method of teaching — the command includes everything necessary or even that could aid in performing the command without specifying it — but when something is done in an effort to carry out that command — such as "another gospel" or another "organization" — then these matters — not being included in the command or unauthorized and are therefore sinful and wrong because they are additions rather than aids! It looks like even a PH.D. could see that.

But from the above quotation it is easy to see that Brother Thomas is certainly enamored with his "new" — "Standard Diagram of Authority". He certainly does not weaken his case any by a lack of confidence. It is not often that you find a PH D. who is known for his humility anyway. Indeed — "Knowledge puffeth up". (I Cor. 8:1.)

The fact is, what he calls his "Standard Diagram of Authority" is but his way of illustrating the difference between matters essential and incidental — Those things either required or permissible — and those which are excluded — for the reason that what God has said does not include them. The illustration is all right if properly applied. In fact, by the brother's own illustration you can completely eliminate everything for which he contends if you make proper application for it. Let us see. Here is his diagram or illustration:

We hear from him this comment concerning the illustration and its use:

"But at the point in such a scale of relationship where God stops specifying what man must do, there we draw our "wavy line" and we understand that all relationships below this point are optional matters for the Christian.

"We should note here that expedients will always occur below the wavy line on our diagrams, and that whatever may rightly be called an expedient will always be an optional human choice, and should never in any wise be considered as "binding"; or as "establishing a pattern" of required conduct". (page 22)

Now it should be apparent to any one that there is nothing magical about the "wavy line" on the diagram. Neither does the fact that Brother Thomas places a thing below the "wavy line" make an expedient out of it. By a wrong application of this illustration you might classify a practice as belonging below the wavy line when it clearly by the scriptures could not be classified as a matter about which we have any choice whatever. We illustrate this by singing and instrumental music.

Where does the wavy line belong on this illustration — above or below the specifics — sing and play? If above, according to our brother's rule then the specifics, sing and play are `optional expedients" — meaning that we have a choice of either one or both. But if the wavy line is placed below the specifics — sing and play — then sing becomes a required specific and play an excluded specific according to his use of the diagram. Our organ brethren would place it above these specifics for they say they are optional expedients. It is obvious that placing the "wavy line" does not change the nature of the practices designated. Bible teaching determines the classification of these practices and it cannot be changed by an arbitrary location of any "wavy line" even by the use of "common sense" upon the part of an "experienced thinker". So it is with the problems created in the church today by institutional promotions. Just as "sing" is a specific kind of music that God has authorized and the very selection of it by divine authority eliminates play — so a specific organization authorized by Christ (the congregation or local church) eliminates every other organization because it is the one the Lord has selected and he has not given us any choice about it. Any other organization beside the local church to do the work of the Lord's church is not authorized. It is not included in the congregation which God has authorized and is therefore an addition — a co-ordinate — which is eliminated by the Lord's specific arrangement. Its nature determines what it is — not a wavy line.

His contention is that the "wavy line" on the chart draws the distinction between the "Required and Excluded" matters and the "optional aids or expedients". All specifics above the "wavy line" are either "specifically required" or "specifically excluded" and all specifics below the wavy line are "optional expedients." Using this very means of determining the matter — really it is only a designation of the classification and not a determination of their classification at all — let us apply this method to our present day problems.

Here we have a "generic pattern" called "church organization or government". The specifics of this generic are: the divine organization — if God has given one, or the human organization, whatever legal form it may assume or be given. Now with reference to these specifics, where must the "wavy line" be located to designate what is required or excluded and what is optional in the divine arrangement? Remember that every specific above the wavy line is either a "required specific" or an "excluded specific" according to the rule laid down by our brother in his book. All below the wavy line are `optional expedients". If then, in the above illustration, we place the "wavy line" above the specifics — Divine Organization and Human Organization, we make them optional expedients and we can either let the local church, the divine organization do the work of the church or we can build a human organization to do it. This is exactly where the institutional brethren stand, Brother Thomas with them. Very few of them are boldly blatant enough to dispute with God's Word like Guy N. Woods and deny that a congregation can — under the supervision of its own elders, through the ministration of its own deacons, and out of the resources supplied by its 'own members — 'do its work of relieving the destitute for whom it is responsible.

Brother Thomas in his book would be forced to place his "wavy line" either above or below our specifics — (1) divine organization, the local church; (2) and the human organization, a corp. body. If he places his "wavy line" above these specifics, he takes the position that both the divine organization, the local church, and the human organization are "optional expedients" and we have a choice between God's plan, the local church, and man's way — the human organization — in doing the work of the church, any work. This means that we do not have to respect the God given organization any more than the one man has fashioned and we have an option between using God's or forming our own. This is true because his newly discovered rule with reference to this chart is that all specifics below the wavy line are "optional expedients". But if he places the wavy line below the two specifics: (1) the local church, a divine organization, (2) and the human organization, then the divine organization, the local church, is a "required specific" and the human organization is an "excluded specific" in any work of the church and it would not matter what work it might be. One or the other positions is a necessary conclusion from the application of his own rule and the use of his own diagram! The first dilemma disrespects and rejects God's wisdom and way by making it an optional expedient with man's way. The last excludes such human organizations as Boles Home, Inc., Abilene Christian College, and every other human organization, from any connection with the church and from doing any work of the church. They cannot be "expedient?' provided and sustained by the church of the Lord for God's specific — the local church — eliminates and excludes them. They have no authority to exist in the capacity Brother Thomas assigns them — "expedients", built and maintained by the church to do its work.

But carry the application a step further:

Where does the "wavy line" belong? above the specifics in the above diagram or below? If you place it above, you make out of God's government — eldership rule over the local church — an "optional expedient" and give man a choice between eldership and majority rule. This nullifies God's arrangement for the congregation; Acts 14:23 — elders in every church; I Tim. 5:17 — eldership rule; Heb. 13:17 — obedience to elders and their responsibility for the members of the congregation; Acts 20:28 — elders taking heed to the flock over which they are elders; I Pet. 5:2 — elders tending the flock among them. Is God's revealed plan for the government of his organization, the local church, an optional matter? Will Brother Thomas or any other man among us affirm that it is?

But if you place the "wavy line" below these specifics — then the rule of the eldership is a required specific and the rule of the majority is excluded in the local church. This is the correct classification — not because of the wavy line but because of Bible teaching. This would condemn every instance where institutional brethren have rebelled against the elders for not adopting these human organizations for doing the work of the church.

But follow the new rule another step in application:

Where does the wavy line belong here? Above the specifics of (1) elders ruling over one local church and (2) elders ruling over more than one local church? If so, then they are "optional expedients" according to our brother and it can be done either way. But if you place the wavy line below the two specifics on the chart above, then elders ruling one church becomes a required specific and elders ruling over more than one church becomes an excluded specific and according to our brother Thomas it is therefore sinful and wrong.

But our liberal brethren say they do not believe that one eldership should rule over the affairs of another church. They affirm stoutly that they do not advocate one church controlling another church and that such arrangements as "our" benevolent societies and the Herald of Truth do not involve the control either of another organization over the churches or one church over another church. Of course, their denial of this does not necessarily mean that it isn't so. We have letters from the president of the United Christian Missionary Society denying that they believe in such or do it. The fact of the matter is that all such arrangements either exercise direct or indirect control over those churches who work through them. There is no other way that they could be a medium of church cooperation. They may not exercise direct control over every activity of the contributing churches but they have control over that part of their activity that is accomplished through such a co-operational agency. It is a fundamental principle of New Testament church government that there should be elders in "every church" (Acts 14:23.) It is also fundamental New Testament truth that those elders should be the superintendents of all the work of the church where they are made bishops. I Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17; Acts 20:28; I Pet. 5:2. We would diagram this teaching on the matter like this:

This delegation of supervision and oversight of some of the affairs of the church of which they are overseers could be to a human organization differing in form from a local church or it could be made to the eldership of another local church. It would be a perversion of the function of the eldership and of the local church but it could be perverted and made to serve a purpose and use that God never assigned. So where does the wavy line belong in the diagram above? Is it optional for the elders to either exercise the government God has placed into their hands or delegate it? If it is optional whether they exercise or delegate their oversight of the affairs of the church, then the wavy line would belong above these specifics for everything below the wavy line classifies according to our brother as optional expedients. But if God has given the elders no choice but to exercise their supervision and oversight in the affairs of the local church where they are elders, then the wavy line would belong below these specifics and that would recognize that God has specifically required an eldership in his church to exercise their oversight and control over the affairs of the church where they are elders and has specifically excluded, therefore, the delegation of their supervision and control over the affairs of the church where they are elders to any other organization, whether it be congregational in its form or fashioned after some human plan.

While it is not brother Thomas' contention that the elders of one church can surrender complete control over the affairs of the church where they are elders to another organization or to another church and its elders, yet he positively advocates the surrendering of a part of their oversight of some of the activities and resources of the church where they are elders to either kind of organization. Without this these human arrangements which he seeks to justify could not exist. If many churches did not contribute to the Highland Church at Abilene, they could not carry on the Herald of Truth. If it is their work, then they are using and therefore controlling and expending the resources of many other churches to do their work. If it is the work of many churches, as Guy N. Woods and the elders of Highland claimed in the Birmingham debate, then they are directing and controlling the work of many churches. They have to take one or the other position and they have taken both.

Either way it is the delegation of some of the supervision and control God ordained to be exercised by the elders of a local church over its own affairs. These facts are so plain and undeniable it would be dishonesty to dispute them.

It should be plain to every responsible individual, whether a trained thinker or not, that if an eldership can delegate any part of their oversight, they can delegate it all on the same principle and by the same authority. In the oversight of a congregation an eldership becomes responsible for the (1) members, (2) resources, (3) program of worship, (4) program of work, (5) fellowship, (6) discipline, of that congregation. Which part of that oversight can they delegate? If they can delegate it in part, then they can by the same token of authority delegate it wholly. If not, let brother Thomas tell us why not? Is there any more scriptural authority for delegating the oversight of "foreign" work than their "local work"? Where does God make such a division?

In order to illustrate this to be the truth, let us use our brother's wavy line again.

If congregations can pool their resources either in the treasury of one local church or in the treasury of an organization that is not congregational in form, their elders can delegate the oversight of their resources, in part at least, and not exercise the oversight thereof themselves. If they can do a part of their work under the exclusive control and oversight of another eldership, then they can delegate the oversight of that part of their work to that eldership or to another organization. If they can delegate their oversight in part, why can't they delegate it wholly?

In the above illustration, if brother Thomas places his wavy line above these specifics, he makes it optional as to whether or not the elders of a church exercise their own oversight over the congregation where they are elders or delegate it to others. If this is his position, then there can be a merging of the work of elders, congregational lines need not be noted or considered in matters of worship, work, discipline, fellowship or otherwise. This would have but one result and that would be to allow the destruction of the form and framework of the local church and permit the forming of a federation of churches under one eldership. This is the episcopacy in reality and either Methodism or Romanism could not any longer be condemned as to organization.

Our readers can see, we feel sure, that the great discovery of new rules of interpretation which brother Thomas claims to have made is but another method of illustrating the same old principle of discernment between matters authorized by the teaching of the scriptures and matters that are excluded because unauthorized by the scriptures — concerning which the word of God is silent — because they are not included in anything which God has said or the Bible has taught. The method of distinguishing is immaterial. It is the distinction that must be recognized and the teaching of the scriptures makes it.