Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 3, 1956
NUMBER 1, PAGE 31-33,36b

When Is A New Testament Example Exclusive?

Robt. H. Farish, Lexington, Kentucky

The question of the authority of examples of apostolic actions is not limited to current controversies, nor is the heat with which it is discussed a new thing under the sun. Eighty years ago the scholarly Brother Pendleton wrote that "blind adhesion to models, apostolic or apostate, is mere slavish stupidity." Apparently "our" fathers realized that their reading audiences would contain many souls of a caliber capable of enjoying and being influenced favorably to their side by such stigmatizing of those who held opposing views. The effectiveness of such tactics for the advancement of party is still recognized by many, as evidenced by the vast volume of ridicule, and insolent stigmatizing that goes on. Pendleton and his sympathizers denied that there was a divine pattern of cooperation, this necessitated a denial of the authority of apostolic example. This same pattern of apostasy is observable today. When some men come to realize that the pattern, imposed by example, cannot be manipulated to include their plans, they will reject the pattern rather than give up their idol. To get rid of the pattern of cooperation, the teaching of examples must be rejected. This Pendleton did by arbitrarily asserting that "adhesion to examples — is unworthy of the Lord's freemen." Brethren, let no one deceive you in this matter: the authority of the scriptures is the real, the fundamental issue.

Formerly, it was deemed sufficient to study only the one question, "When is an Example Binding"? This, however, is no longer the case for some are questioning the authority of the teaching of apostolic examples. The study of New Testament examples must include the question, do the scriptures teach by example? This problem must be resolved before there is any point in trying to determine when examples reveal the will of God, hence, the title, "When is a New Testament Example Exclusive"?

Revelation And Reason

To determine when examples reveal the will of God, reason must be employed. In order to properly use reason, we need to know the province of reason and its relation to revelation in religious matters. Revelation itself fixes the province of reason in this area. (1) Reason cannot determine the will of God to man. It is not the means through which man learns the things of God. (1 Cor. 1:21; 2 Cor. 5:7; 1 Cor. 2: 10-12.) (2) Reasoning "from the scriptures" is endorsed by the scriptures. (Acts 17:2)

Some observations based on the above facts follow: (1) Reason's province is to draw inferences from facts revealed in revelation and test the soundness of such inferences. (2) Any conclusion reached by inference that conflicts with an expressed statement of revelation is false. The teaching of expressed statements takes precedence over all other evidence: e.g., regardless of the seeming absurdity, from the standpoint of human reason, that baptism for the remission of sins may involve, we by faith accept it as the will of God because it is required in the scripture by expressed statement. Equally true is it that if it be the will of God that the Lord's supper be observed in an upper room, the upper room can be arranged, and must be arranged to please God and that in spite of the seeming absurdity. If, by expressed statement, God required the upper room, no appeal to reason would be proper. The evidence of reason is incompetent in any case where we have direct evidence from revelation. This I have never been disposed to deny, but in the absence of an expressed statement, when by reasoning from the scriptures, we show that the requirements of the scriptures render absurd the "upper room" as a necessary feature of acceptable observance of the Lord's supper, the imperative conclusion is that the "upper room" feature is not binding.

With these preliminary considerations in mind we approach our first problem:

Do The Scriptures Teach By Example?

If the answer to the question heading this section be negative, a denial of the scriptures is involved, for the scriptures make the claim for themselves of teaching by example. The first passage we consider in support of this assertion is Heb. 13:7-9. "Remember them that had the rule over you, men that spoke unto you the word of God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, yea and forever. Be not carried away by divers and strange teachings. . . ." Here the scriptures, by express statement, require that apostolic action, which reflects apostolic faith, be considered in order to imitate that faith. That faith is fixed "once for all delivered," it is the same for all generations. This is established by the character of its author who is the "same yesterday, today, yea and forever." The imitation of that faith will prevent our being carried away by divers and strange teachings. This is also brought out in a similar passage, (1 Cor. 11:1) "Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ." Here apostolic action which reflected Christ is set forth as example to be imitated. Another passage offered as evidence that the scriptures claim to teach by example is Phil. 3:17. "Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample." Also Phil. 4:9 "The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you." This scriptural precept requires that we do, not only that which we hear from the apostles, but that which we see revealed by their actions. Other scriptures of the same import could be cited, but these are sufficient to establish the fact that the scriptures claim for themselves to teach by example.

Character Of Teaching Of Approved Example

Having established that the scriptures do teach by example we are now ready to grapple with the matter of the exclusive character of such teaching. The character of the teaching of approved examples is the same as that of any scriptural teaching. The claim of sufficiency and exclusiveness is made by the scriptures for themselves. (2 Tim. 3:16,17; Acts 3:22; 2 John 9.) Hence, the scriptural teaching of examples is of the character claimed by the scriptures for themselves. Without the teaching of approved examples, an incompleteness in revelation is observable: e.g., the time to partake of the Lord's supper. The expressly claimed "completeness" of revelation, considered in connection with the obvious fact of a lack in revelation, if this example is not binding, is strong evidence of the exclusive nature of this example. The specifications of the teaching of approved examples are exclusive just as surely as specifications of expressed statements are exclusive. Just as Noah would have been guilty of "going beyond" by using other kinds of wood in addition to gopher wood, those are guilty today who, in addition to partaking of the Lord's supper on the first day of the week, also partake on other days.

By what rules shall we determine which apostolic actions are exclusive? This is the next step logically in our study.

Hermeneutical Rules

I. The rule of unity or harmony is the first rule which we will consider. An example is never to be construed in such a way as to violate the teaching of expressed statements. The teaching of express statements, approved examples and necessary inferences is never conflicting. The teaching of the scriptures is harmonious. The Holy Spirit did not teach one thing by express statement and then teach by example or inference something contradictory to the express statement. The unity of the faith requires this. I. B. Grubbs puts it this way, "The first is the law of harmony, which as presupposing the unity of the truth, requires such interpretation and application of a given passage as is consistent with other undoubted scripture teaching." (Exegetical Analysis)

Here is an illustration of this rule: The extent of the elders' oversight is expressly stated by the apostle Peter in 1 Pet. 5:2 "Tend the flock of God which is among you." Thus it is clear that the elders have no responsibilities as elders beyond the flock of God among them. Most of those among "us" will give lip service to the principle of congregational independence, but some of these same brethren, in an attempt to justify their practice of centralized control, will urge the Antioch example of Acts 11:27-30 as authority to exercise oversight over a work which by no scriptural or reasonable means can be identified as a work peculiar to "the flock of God which is among them." The scriptures do not teach one thing by express statement and teach contradictory to that by approved example. The Jerusalem elders, like all elders, by express statement of scripture (1 Pet. 5:2) were limited in their "tending" to the flock of God among them. They could not have constituted themselves a "sponsoring" church, receiving funds from Antioch and distributing them to the other churches in Judea, without violating an expressly stated truth. We dare not, therefore, attempt to wrest the Antioch example to make it authorize a practice which would be in conflict with a clearly expressed principle. Much reasoning, that is "more ingenious than candid," has been directed toward establishing and maintaining an interpretation of the Antioch example which would array the action in this case against the requirements of 1 Pet. 5:2. Brethren, let us leave such efforts to infidels. Their idolatrous infatuation with reason better equips them for the task of undermining the faith of good people. Let us destroy not, for pride of life, the church for which Christ died.

This rule of unity also applies in the example of first day observance of the Lord's supper. In Acts 20 we have the example of the brethren partaking of the Lord's supper on the first day of the week. Now does the law of unity rule out the action of this example? Is first day observance judged not exclusive by the law of unity? This will be determined by collecting express statements and seeing if the pattern of the example conforms. The express statement of the law informs us that: (1) Observance is a required thing. 1 Cor. 11:24 "this do in remembrance of me." (2) Repeated observance is required — not a command, like baptism, which once obeyed is not to be repeated. 1 Cor. 11:26 "For as often as ye eat the bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come." (3) An assembly (coming together) is involved. 1 Cor. 11:20 "When therefore ye assemble yourselves together." Examining the example in the light of the expressed law, we see that in no particular is there the slightest conflict. (1) The action of the example, "to break bread," is the "doing" required. (2) The example shows how "often" the supper is to be eaten: "Upon the first day of the week." (3) The example involves an assembly, "When we were gathered together.' Thus we see that there is no discrepancy between the statement and the example — the example complements the express statement.

But what about the rule of unity and the "upper room" incident? Can the rule be applied to this example of "place where"? In answer to this we go to the scriptures for evidence which we consider competent in this particular case. The first piece of evidence is the law of worship expressed by Christ in John 4:21 and 24. "Jesus saith unto her, woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall ye worship the Father .... God is a Spirit and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth." In this expressed statement Christ positively rules out any one place or location as being acceptable over another. Any place where one can worship in spirit and in truth fills all the requirements of this passage. Any place "where two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ" will fulfill all the requirements of place where.

II. Rule Of Uniformity

Uniformity in essential details must be present in examples of the same kind of action. This rule is in a sense subsidiary to the rule of unity, in that it requires harmony between examples of the same kind of action. The application of this rule requires discriminating powers — the ability to distinguish between essentials and incidentals and between situations which are different. To illustrate: Constancy is observable in the essentials, "go . . . and preach the gospel," but variation is present in the examples of ways of going . . . walking, horseback, ship, etc. Distinction must also be made between situations which really differ. Some are confused in the matter of the pattern of cooperation as set by examples. They think they see variation in the examples of cooperation between the congregations of Acts 11:22, 27, 30; and cooperation between congregations and an individual in Phil. 4:16. It would be about as reasonable to try to establish variation in conversion because the requirements of the conversion of an alien differ from the requirements of conversion of an erring child of God. Most of us can see that these are not alternates, but are binding in the area of activity to which they are assigned. The pattern of cooperation stands, if between congregations, the needy congregation is the receiving congregation; the congregation with abundance is the sending congregation. Neither one is a "sponsoring congregation." No place can be found in the pattern for one congregation standing as a "middle man" between the sending and the receiving congregation. In the case of cooperation between churches and individual, the church sends direct to the individual. These examples of cooperation are no more disqualified by the rule of uniformity than are the express statements of conversion.

Contextual study is the chief dependence in determining what is essential and what merely incidental. The value of contextual study, in distinguishing between the essential and incidental, is best appreciated experimentally: i.e., by engaging in such study of a given passage. To this end we will subject Acts 20 to such a study to see what the context will reveal.

In the first place, a casual reading is sufficient to impress upon our minds the contrast in the manner of mentioning the two incidents, "the first day of the week" and "the upper room." "The first day of the week" occupies a focal position in this account. It points out, specifies the day upon which they came together to break bread, whereas the "upper room" is only incidentally mentioned in connection with the accident of the young man falling out of the window. No more significance can be attached to this feature than to the fact of his falling asleep. Both (the upper room and his falling asleep) are related as details in connection with the death of the young man and their only utility is to make that account complete. They 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 third story) explained why death resulted from his fall. Had this accident not occurred, the upper room detail would have had no point in the narrative.

Cumulative evidence of the prime or essential character of the "first day of the week" detail is found in statements of actions, which statements we would he incapable of harmonizing on any thesis other than that the observance of the Lord's supper was at a definite, universally recognized assembly; and that the assembling was upon the first day of the week. The first of these statements is found in verse 6b. "And came unto them to Troas in five days; where we tarried seven days." The other statement is found in verse 16b. "For he was hastening." Unnecessary tarrying when one is hastening is to say the least unreasonable. Their tarrying under such circumstances must have been necessary. What could have necessitated tarrying? They certainly were not aimlessly wasting time. Nothing is said of their activities during the tarrying period. It is only when the first day of the week comes that their actions receive detailed attention by the Holy Spirit. They tarried seven days but they gathered together to break bread upon the first day of the week. To me it is very clear that they were waiting for the first day of the week in order to partake of the Lord's supper and because the first day of the week would be the time when Paul could 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. I am unable to discover from the context another fact which satisfactorily explains their tarrying when they were in a hurry.

Applying the rule of uniformity to the place where the Lord's supper is to be eaten will establish that the upper room is not an essential element but is only an incidental. From the following considerations we learn that uniformity does not prevail in the matter a place where.

  1. The church in Jerusalem steadfastly observed the Lord's supper. Acts 2:42.
  2. The daily assembly place was the temple. Acts 2: 46; 5:42 "in Solomon's porch"; 5:12
  3. The first day of week is one of the days of "daily."
  4. Hence, the necessary inference is that the Lord's supper was observed by the church in some part of the temple, probably Solomon's porch.

As variation exists between the temple and the "upper room" neither is binding. They are only incidentals.

III. The Rule Of Universal Application

No example is to be regarded as reflecting the will of God which is not susceptible of universal application. The gospel with all its requirements and blessings is for all the people in all the world (Mk. 16:16) hence is capable of universal application. The impartial character of God (no respecter of persons Rom.: 2:11; Acts 10:34,35) requires this rule. The scope of the gospel is worldwide, providing salvation for all men; its requirements are such as can be met; its provisions, such as can be enjoyed, by all men of every clime.

In the example of "time When" to partake of the Lord's supper, there are no requirements but such as can be universally (in all the world) observed without involving it in absurdities. The Eskimo in his igloo — the African in his hut or under a tree — any creature in all the world where the gospel has gone, has a first day of the week upon which he can "assemble to eat the Lord's supper."

The "upper room" does not possess this quality of universal application as does the "first day of the week." Were it the Lord's will that our assembling to partake of the Lord's supper be in an "upper room," then the Eskimo must be converted not only from his former manner of life but also from his former manner of architecture. He will have to build three storied igloos!! The same would hold true with other peoples. Our preachers who are preaching in Japan, Africa, other remote regions would need to arrange for "upper rooms" before they could teach the converts the will of God on partaking of the Lord's supper.

IV. The Rule Of Legitimate Extension

No example is to be extended beyond its legitimate province. No New Testament action (of apostles, Christians or churches) is to be considered as binding beyond the proper province of that action. If the action be in emergency situations, it is not to be extended to include normal or regular action: e.g., the community of property practiced by the Jerusalem church. There was an emergency situation in Jerusalem that called forth this action of selling "their possessions and goods" sand parting them to all, according as any man had need. (Acts 2:45.) Now not many people reason that this example is binding for any and all congregations regardless of circumstances. To contend that this action is binding in all cases is to be guilty of extending the example beyond its legitimate province — which province is emergency situations. This example is an "approved example" for this situation but not an "approved example" for all situations. This example reflects the will of God for emergency not general or normal situations.

We have other examples similar to this in the New Testament, that is, examples of action in emergency situations. We read of churches sending to sister churches (Acts 11:27-30; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8 and 9) in emergency situations. Some have disregarded the proper province of these examples and have attempted to take these examples of churches sending to needy sister churches in their emergency, as authority for churches in circumstances other than genuine emergencies sending to other churches. This is to fail to "handle aright the word of truth." In no command, example or necessary inference can we find authority for one church sending to another church except where the receiving church had a real need, but did not have the means necessary to perform its own work.

We close with the heartening assurance from Christ, "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself." (John 7:17.) Brethren, let us determine to do, not our own will, but the will of God. Equipped with this single aim, we can by studying the Word know the will of God.