Not "Inadequate Hypothesis" But Scriptural Rules
Robert H. Farish, San Bernardino, California
In his book, We Be Brethren, Brother J. D. Thomas attempts to set aside some rules for distinguishing between the essential and the incidental actions in the New Testament examples. Some of these rules which Brother Thomas dubs as hypothesis were set forth and discussed in a series of articles in the Gospel Guardian and later in revised form in the "Special" of the Guardian. These rules were carefully tested before they were submitted for publication. They were not submitted by a "church splitter" nor one who "feels kindly toward a 'brotherhood' split". Neither were they submitted for publication to "church splitters" nor "those who feel kindly toward a 'brotherhood' split". They were submitted by this writer and I answer the harsh judgment which my BROTHER has expressed with the words of the apostle Paul, "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified" (in your sight) "but he that judgeth me is the Lord". (1 Cor. 4:3,4.) The Lord knows my heart and the heart of my BRETHREN and will judge our motives. I remind my BROTHER of the teaching of the scripture, "who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him — " (1 Cor. 2:11.) The purpose of the "Special" and the way the BRETHREN to whom these rules were submitted, "feel — toward a brotherhood split" is expressly stated, thus Brother Thomas had no worthy reason for using "loaded" expressions reflecting on his BRETHREN and impugning their motives. Here is a quotation from the editorial of the "Special" — "The paper you hold in your hand represents an 'all out' effort on the part of the editors and publishers of the Gospel Guardian to meet the crisis now upon the Lord's church, and to promote unity among the disciples on the basis of the Bible teaching. This is our unity Special". (emphasis mine R.H.F.) So much for the "un-Abrahamic" implication which Brother Thomas injected in the context of his discussion of these rules in his book We Be Brethren.
The rules which Brother Thomas has tried to set aside will be restated and examined in the order in which they appear in Brother Thomas' book.
"1. The hypothesis of uniformity (including single occurrence)". The rule of uniformity states that "uniformity in essential details must be present in examples of the same kind of action." Brother Thomas objects to this rule because he can find uniformity in some examples which other considerations will not allow to be binding. He would require the essential character of every example to be established by one rule alone. This we have not attempted. But we do insist that the optional character of an example is established when variation is present. If uniformity does not exist then the action is optional. The essential or binding nature of examples is not established by a single rule but by a process of elimination. When every test which the scriptures require has been applied, the optional or incidental will have been eliminated and only the essential will remain. Yes, Brother Thomas, we know full well that "it, therefore, definitely takes more than mere uniformity to set patterns". But does it take more than variation to prove an action optional? Is not lack of uniformity enough to establish the optional character of an action?
Brother Thomas writes "we are glad to note that some who have argued that uniformity is a guide to 'bindingness' now recognize that uniformity alone can not be the criterion — it must be supported by other 'rules required by the scriptures' (to quote their own words). This is of course equivalent to saying that uniformity contributes absolutely nothing to the determination of when an example is binding." Brother Thomas if my statement which you quote is "equivalent to saying that uniformity contributes absolutely nothing — ", is not your statement, plus all the usual techniques of Bible interpretation (p. 70) equivalent to saying that your pattern principle contributes absolutely nothing to the determination of when an example is binding"? "Uniformity is a guide to bindingness" but not the sole criterion! Belief alone does not qualify one for remission of sins but unbelief alone does disqualify one. (Mark 16:16.) Now, Brother Thomas, does belief "contribute absolutely nothing to the determination of" who is qualified for remission of sins?
Brother Thomas has improperly dubbed this rule of uniformity an hypothesis. It is not "a tentative theory or supposition provisionally adopted to explain certain facts — a mere theory or speculation". It is the teaching of the scriptures by necessary inference. Some of the passages of scripture from which this rule is necessarily inferred are: Rom. 2:11; Acts 10:34; Acts 16:11 etc. The facts of God's impartiality and the uniformity of his will are expressed in these passages. God makes no distinctions between the people of the earth; all will be saved in "like manner". Hence it is a necessary inference that actions among exemplary characters which are not uniform are incidental or optional; they are not binding upon all people of the gospel age.
The rule of uniformity was discussed as a subsidiary to the "rule of unity or harmony" in the "Special" issue of the Gospel Guardian. This rule as expressed there is "an example is never to be construed in such a way as to violate the teaching of express statement. The teaching of express statement, approved example and necessary inference is never conflicting". Brother Thomas says "This really means, in a negative way, that this particular rule can veto an example as binding". (P. 82.) That is right. Examples which do not qualify under this rule are eliminated from the binding class. Yes, it can and does "veto" any doctrine as binding when that doctrine is in conflict with any undoubted scriptural teaching.
This rule is not an "hypothesis"; it is scriptural teaching. It is a necessary inference from clear and specific claims of the scriptures. Some of these claims for the unity of the truth of the gospel are found in Eph. 4:1-6; Gal. 1:9; 1 Cor. 1:10 etc.
The author of We Be Brethren says of this rule "this rule is really only a truism, and it affects commands and necessary inference the same way". Brother Thomas defines truism in his Glossary as "a statement of an obvious truth, and which contributes nothing by being said." Now that the rule of unity is an obvious truth to those who know the scriptures is true, but that it contributes nothing by being said is false. Brother Grubbs said it in his rules of Bible study in Exegetical Analysis and Brother Milligan said it in Reason and Revelation. These men evidently thought it contributed something by being said. The author of We Be Brethren evidently likes the word "truism" — he uses it so freely in his attempt to minimize these rules for determining when an example is binding. Suppose we just see how it applies to his "pattern principle."
The "pattern principle" has been obvious to us all along; its only contribution is the defining of the problem in different words. The fact that those things binding on exemplary New Testament Christians are binding on us and those things that were optional with them are optional with us is a truth, which has been perfectly obvious all along. This truism does not contribute to the solution of the real problem under consideration. How to distinguish between the essential and the optional actions of the exemplary New Testament character is the precise problem. Brother Thomas' claim, that his "pattern principle" "gives a clear answer for every case", is nothing but a baseless assertion. His rule for discerning between the binding and the optional allows him to "loose" every thing which his "common sense" rejects and to "bind" every thing which his "common sense" approves.
The rule of universal application states that "no example is to be regarded as reflecting the will of God which is not susceptible of universal application." This is the teaching of the scriptures. We are taught this by necessary inference. Some of the passages which require this inference are: Mark 16:15; Rom. 1:15,16; Acts 2:39 etc. The gospel with all its requirements and blessings is for all the people in all the word and for all time, hence, all of its requirements must be such as can be complied with universally. This rule eliminates all the strictly local and period features. Any example of action which is not susceptible of universal application is 'sifted out" by this rule and is thus eliminated from the class of actions which are binding. The claim for this rule is the same as for the others, it is not the sole test by which we can determine the character of examples of the New Testament, but it very definitely does not eliminate any of God's will. That it might retain some things which are incidental is granted; that is why other rules are set forth.
The rule of legitimate (limited) extension, is that no example is to be extended beyond its legitimate province. This requires that no example of action is to be considered as binding beyond the proper province of that example. Actions in emergency situations are not to be considered as scriptural action for all situations. The example of community of property practiced by the church at Jerusalem does not bind that action on every church in every age and regardless of circumstances. This rule is necessarily inferred from a consideration of such passages as Acts 4:34; 1 Cor. 7:26 etc. In these cases we have actions which are for abnormal or emergency situations. For us to infer that these actions are binding in all cases would be to contradict the permanent arrangements of God for normal situations.
Brother Thomas' Admissions
Brother Thomas admits that: (1) the rule of unity or harmony "can veto an example as binding"; (2) the rule of universal application "can serve only to veto certain examples" and that "no one questions this conclusion, but the same limitations also affect commands and necessary inferences;" (3) the rule of limited extension "is of course a valid principle, but we should be careful not to be dogmatic in its application. The principle itself is obvious enough and is acceptable to everyone, but it is in its application that the crucial test comes"; (4) "The only one that makes a serious effort toward the purpose is the rule of uniformity and we have shown that when it is applied against Biblical material it is found to be woefully wanting". These admissions reveal that Brother Thomas considers these rules as capable of eliminating optional matters. They have veto power. I am unable to find any place where he attempts to show that they are invalid (unscriptural); he is concerned only with trying to establish inadequacy. He has only proved that no one of these rules by itself is adequate to eliminate all the optional examples. The thing which Brother Thomas should do is to show that these rules are invalid (unscriptural) in that they eliminate unquestioned scriptural teaching, or that they are inadequate in that they allow some incidental action to stand after being tried by all of them. The admissions which we have listed show that Brother Thomas does not believe that these rules are unscriptural, thus they cannot eliminate a binding action, but they clearly eliminate the "sponsoring church" type cooperation which he is attempting to defend. Surely Brother Thomas realizes that the "sponsoring church" type of cooperation is ruled out by the rule of harmony. The example of Acts 11:27-30 can not be interpreted to authorize elders of one congregation "tending" any part of the work of another congregation for this would be out of harmony with the unquestioned scriptural teaching of 1 Peter 5:2 which limits the elders in their tending to the flock of God among them. The "sponsoring church" interpretation is ruled out not as an optional thing but as an unscriptural arrangement.
On the other hand the type cooperation which involves a church with ability sending to a church in need stands the test. This type cooperation is not optional; it is binding. Any time a church, with ability to help a needy sister church, fails to cooperate with that church by sending relief to them, it is sin. The type cooperation taught in this example is a required thing, Brother Thomas' contention to the contrary. Brother Thomas tries to make all cooperation an optional thing — P. 45 of We Be Brethren. This we deny. Scriptural congregational cooperation is not an optional thing, it is required.
The "sponsoring church" type congregational cooperation is also judged unscriptural by the rule of legitimate (limited) extension. All the cases in the New Testament of one church sending to another church are examples of action in emergency situations, the need of the receiving church being the emergency. To take these examples of action in emergency situations as authority for many churches to send to a church which is not properly an object of charity is to press them beyond their proper province. It is an illegitimate extension of the teaching of these examples.
Remember that of this rule, legitimate extension, Brother Thomas says, "the principle itself is obvious enough and is acceptable to every one, but it is in its application that the crucial test comes". Why did not Brother Thomas make the crucial test ? Why did he not apply the rule to the examples which have been relied upon as giving comfort to the "sponsoring church"? He should demonstrate how to apply the test and "not be dogmatic in its application".
Let Brother Thomas apply these rules to the examples of the New Testament and allow them to "veto" all that is optional that which remains after the test will be undoubted scriptural teaching. No one will be willing to say that the things which remain are unscriptural. These things can he contended for in full confidence that one is setting an example in "sound speech which cannot be condemned". If Brother Thomas knows of a single binding action in any example that will be eliminated by these rules, let him name it and prove by the scriptures that it is a binding matter. If it is a binding matter it will be specifically authorized by command, approved example or necessary inference. If it is optional it will be authorized by generic authority by command, approved example or necessary inference. If it is not taught by command, approved example or necessary inference it is neither binding nor optional it is unscriptural!
None of these rules can eliminate a binding action; whereas the rule of "common sense" of Brother Thomas' pattern principle has in the past been used to eliminate things which Brother Thomas still regards as binding e. g. baptism, observance of the Lord's supper every first day of the week etc. "Common sense" has also been used to bind things upon the church which Brother Thomas believes to be sinful e. g. instrumental music, missionary societies, baptizing babies etc.
Brother Thomas' "pattern principle" is an "inadequate hypothesis; these rules for determining when an example is binding are scriptural teaching. The reader will of course choose for himself which he will rely upon in his efforts to know what the will of God is.