Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 25, 1968
NUMBER 12, PAGE 2-3,5b-6

When Is A New Testament Example Binding? (II.)

Robert H. Farish

(Synopsis: The previous article set forth certain basic laws that must be recognized in determining whether a New Testament example is, or is not, binding on us today. Further explication and definition of the governing principles is set forth in this article.)

Law Of Uniformity

The law of uniformity is one of the subsidiaries of the law of harmony. The law of uniformity is: Uniformity in essential details must be present in any example for the action involved to be considered binding. This characteristic of uniformity must be established before the student proceeds another step. Variation eliminates the examples, in which it occurs, from the class of binding examples. This law is valuable in eliminating incidental actions. The presence of uniformity permits the student to proceed in his efforts to prove an example binding, but it does not license him to stop, at the point of establishing uniformity, and rest the case on this one characteristic alone. Uniformity, and rest the case on this one characteristic alone. Uniformity alone does not prove the case but variation does disqualify the action as being exclusive or binding.

Brumbaugh in his discussion of argument from congruity and incongruity says, "Moreover, the value of this method (the law which demands congruity) is greater in proving a fallacy than in positive proof, for while the lack of consistency is strong evidence of error, the reverse situation, to wit, the presence of consistency, does not equally well prove the presence of truth" (Legal Reasoning and Briefing, p. 106). The absence of uniformity proves the incidental character of an example; the presence of uniformity indicates the need to check the example further.

The rule of uniformity is truly a subsidiary to the great law of unity. If, in the same kind of situation, different actions are taken, no single example of action can be considered as binding to the exclusion of the other examples. The application of this rule requires the student to discriminate between situations which are different. Failure to discriminate between situations that are different has caused some to be confused in the matter of congregational cooperation as set by the examples in the New Testament. The mistake has been in confusing the pattern of cooperation between congregations (Acts 11:22,27,30) and the pattern of "fellowship in the furtherance of the gospel" between a congregation and an individual (Phil. 4:16). In the case of congregational cooperation, the church with "abundance" i.e., the ability to give, sent to a church in need. Both the sending church and the receiving church retained their autonomy in this divine arrangement. In the case of a church having fellowship with a preacher in the furtherance of the gospel, the congregation sent directly to the preacher. Those who desire to justify the sponsoring church system of cooperation think they see reason for disregarding the examples of action in both these situations. They claim variation in the examples and thus contend that the examples and do not teach a binding pattern. It would be as reasonable to try to disqualify the divine pattern of conversion on the basis of difference between the conditions of pardon for an alien sinner and the condition of pardon for the Christian when he sins. If one can see that these are not alternates, but are binding, in the sphere to which they have been assigned, he can also see that the examples under consideration are examples of action in different situations.

The pattern of cooperation stands: if between congregations, the congregation with more needy members than it can care for is the receiving congregation, the congregation with ability or "abundance" is the sending congregation. If the cooperation or fellowship is in furtherance of the gospel, the congregation sends to the preacher. In no case is there a place in the divine pattern for a congregation or society, either "benevolent" or "missionary" occupying a position as a "middle man" between the contributing church and the church or individual for which the contribution is intended. These examples of cooperation are no more disqualified by the rule of uniformity than are the statements and examples teaching the conditions of forgiveness for the alien and the statements and examples teaching the conditions of forgiveness for an erring Christian to be judged as not binding. Uniformity in examples in different situations and relationships can not properly be demanded.

Law Of Universal Application

Another law which is simply a particular of the great law of unity is the law of universal application. No example of action is to be regarded as binding when it is not such as can be universally applied. The universal scope of the gospel, its blessings designed for all men in all the world, for all time, requires this law. The scope of the gospel is world wide, providing salvation for all men. "For the grace of God hath appeared bringing salvation to all men" (Titus 2:11), hence its requirements are such as can be met by men of every nation in every period of time. The impartial character of God (no respecter of persons, Rom. 2:11) demands this rule.

This rule will eliminate as binding those examples of action which simply reflect the mode of travel (e.g., horseback), the customs of a period of time by which courtesy and hospitality are practiced — i.e., foot-washing, greeting with a holy kiss: the architectural structures peculiar to periods of time and geographical location, e.g., upper room where the Lord's supper was observed.

The upper room feature which is mentioned in Acts 20 is a good example to illustrate the application of the law of universal application as well as the law of uniformity. It can also. serve to show the subsidiary relation of these rules to the great fundamental law of harmony. The account in Acts 20:1-17 should be read carefully in order to have the contextual background in which to study the "upper room" feature.

The immediate text is Acts 20:7-9, "And upon the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and prolonged his speech until midnight. And there were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered together. And there sat in the window a certain young man, named Eutychus, borne down with deep sleep; and as Paul discoursed yet longer, being borne down by his sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead."

Acts 20:7 is our authority for regular first day observance of the Lord's supper. It has long been considered as exclusive — excluding any day other than the first day of the week as the proper time for eating the Lord's supper but including every first day.

How can the regular first day observance of the Lord's supper be bound by this example and the 3rd story detail be judged as incidental? The essential can be distinguished from the incidental by a study of the context. The first day of the week occupies a focal position in this account. It points out the specific day upon which they came together to break bread. Evidence of the essential character of the "first day of the week" detail is found in the statements of action, which statements we would be incapable of harmonizing on any thesis other than that the observance of the Lord's supper was at a definite, universally assembly, and that the assembling was on the first day of the week. The language takes for granted this universally recognized assembly. Consider these statements, "And came unto them at Troas; where we tarried seven days" (Acts 20:6). Then in verse 16, "For he was hastening.." How can their action of tarrying seven days when they were hastening be reconciled? The subject in their tarrying must be significant. Nothing is said of their activities during the tarrying period, but in the light of Paul's practice, we can know that he was busy in discharging his duty of preaching. This he could do on any day of the week. It is only when the first day of the week comes that their actions received detailed attention. They tarried seven days but on the first day of the week they gathered together to break bread. It is clear that they were waiting for the first day of the week in order to partake of the Lord's supper and further the implication is strong that the first day of the week would be the time when Paul could properly expect to be able to address the whole church which would be assembled to break bread. By tarrying, these two important objectives could be accomplished. A careful study of the context yields these facts. No other facts can be discovered from the context which satisfactorily explain their tarrying when they were in a hurry.

"The first day of the week" occupies an essential place; it specifies the day upon which the church gathered together to break bread, whereas the "upper room" is only incidentally mentioned in connection with the accident of the drowsy young man's death as a result of falling out of the window. No more significance can be attached to the upper room feature than the fact of his falling asleep. Both are related as details in connection with the death of this man and their utility is to make the account complete. There were two factors in combination which resulted in the youth's death: his going to sleep was the cause of his falling; the distance he fell (from a 3rd story) explains why death resulted from his fall. Had this accident not occurred, the upper room would have had no point in the narrative.

The law of uniformity does not require the "upper room" as the place where the Lord's supper is to be observed. Although the Lord and his disciples were gathered in an upper room when he instituted the Lord's supper and an upper room was the place where the disciples at Troas gathered, yet variation is observable in the place where the Lord's supper was eaten by the church in Jerusalem. Consider these facts: (1) The church in Jerusalem steadfastly observed the Lord's supper (Acts 2:42); (2) The place of daily assembly was the temple (Acts 2:46; 5:42); in "Solomon's porch" (Acts 5:12); (3) The first day of the week is one of the days of "daily"; (4) Hence, the Lord's supper was observed by the church in some part of the temple, probably Solomon's porch. As variations exist between the temple and the upper room, neither is binding. Either is acceptable but only as an incidental and not as an essential.

The law of universal application rules out the architectural feature of the upper room. The commandment by Christ required that the gospel be preached to every creature in all the world but the architectural features of buildings in various parts of the world differ as widely as the modes of travel. The preachers of the gospel are no more obligated to teach those, who are converted by their preaching, to build three story houses than they are obligated to teach them how to build automobiles. Christians can fulfill the requirements of the commission to "go" by any of the means of transportation and they can observe the Lord's supper in any suitable place. The "upper room" does not possess the quality of universal application as does the "first day of the week." The concept of the unity of truth must be constantly kept in the forefront in studying not only the examples in the Bible but all teaching of the Bible.

Law Of Legitimate Extension

The law of legitimate extension, or as some call it, the law of limited application, is another of the subsidiary laws under the law of unity. No New Testament example of action is to be considered as binding in situations other than those set forth in the New Testament record of the action.

"Every principle of divine law demonstrated in any New Testament example can be correctly applied only to the circumstances or set of facts under which application is made by the Holy Spirit in the word of God. No example or principle applied to all circumstances or conditions.. The case to which it is applied must be the same fact situation. There must be a case in point" (Walking by Faith, Roy E. Cogdill, p. 27).

It has been asserted by some, without evidence to prove the assertion, that if a thing is wrong in normal or usual situations, it is wrong in emergency situations. The point which those who so assert are trying to make is that if it were scripturally right for churches, such as Antioch, with ability to send relief to the churches in Judea, whose members were in need, then it is right for churches to send to a sponsoring church to enable the sponsoring church to do a work greater than it could accomplish by moving in its congregational capacity alone.

A few cases from the Scripture will suffice to show that a thing can be scripturally right in emergency but not right in normal circumstances.

Consider the Lord's reaction to Satan's proposal that he appropriate a divine emergency arrangement for other situation. Satan quoted God's promise, "He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and on their hands they shall bear thee up, lest haply thou dash thy foot against a stone" (Matt. 4:6). In reply to this, Jesus pointed out that the Scriptures also required one to avoid tempting God. In this case, we have a provision which God had made for emergency cases. Jesus showed that it would be wrong to deliberately create the emergency situation. He cited another divine principle which would be violated by his taking the action proposed by Satan. Yes, a provision can be limited to emergency cases and it would be wrong to press the teaching beyond its legitimate area of application.

The New Testament examples of action in unusual or emergency situations cannot be properly pressed into service in efforts to establish authority to imitate those actions in normal and usual circumstances. Actions in an example which in certain circumstances are binding must never be construed as authority for the same action in other circumstances in which this action would violate scriptural principles. If the action be in emergency situations, such action is authorized for emergency or unusual circumstances.

Another case that points up the significance of this rule of legitimate extension is the community of property practiced for a period by the Jerusalem church. There was an unusual situation in Jerusalem. The members of the church there, with the approval of the apostles, sold "their possessions and goods and parting them to all, according as any man had need" (Acts 2:45). This did not set aside the divine order of regular giving of one's means, according to his ability (I Cor. 16:1,2). This example in Acts 2:42; 43 is for emergency situations. When it is followed in these cases, it is scriptural; when used in an effort to justify "community of property" generally and in all circumstances; it is a case of wresting the Scriptures.

The examples in the New Testament of one or more churches contributing to a church in which there was real need cannot be regarded as teaching that contributions can be made by one church to another church in the absence of need on the receiving church.

The Law Of Exclusion

The law which excluded everything not authorized in New Testament stated in II John 9-11, "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son."

"When there is no precept, approved example, or necessary inference that includes the practice under consideration, there is no authority for such practice and it is excluded. God's silence rules against it and to engage in such a practice is to add to the law of God. We must not only speak where the Bible speaks, but we must be silent where the Bible is silent" (Walking by Faith, Roy E. Cogdill).

Space limitations rule out an exhaustive treatment of this vital theme, but it is the hope of the writer that the principles suggested will enable the reader to try the examples of the New Testament and determine for himself what examples are intended by the Holy Spirit to furnish models to be imitated — examples of actions to be avoided or simply incidental details.

"And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified" (Acts 20:32, 33).