Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 3, 1959
NUMBER 17, PAGE 1,11b-14

"Interpretation" Or Attitude?

Roy E. Cogdill

(This is the third in a series of articles reviewing a book recently published, "WE BE BRETHREN", by Brother J. D. Thomas of Abilene Christian College.)

In the preceding article we have discussed the matter of whether or not we need Brother Thomas and others among "our educated" brethren to help us understand what God has said. We want to concern ourselves in this article with the fundamental attitude that has produced our difficulty. It is our earnest and considered conviction that these brethren who are trying to defend these human organizations that are doing the benevolent work of the churches of Christ, and these federations that are being formed among congregations by promoting elders and preachers in order to do a "big" work, are working on the wrong principle. They have themselves, or the problems they are trying to solve, hitched up backwards. It has always been a device of error to shift the burden of proof, if possible, and undertake to prove nothing. It is a lot easier to sit back and say, "Where does the Bible say it is wrong" than to courageously undertake to show where God has said that it is right. It is a lot easier to say, "There is no pattern" than to produce one that even includes much less specifies what men want to practice.

The fact of the whole matter is that "where there is no pattern" there is no authority so far as Bible teaching goes. There must be a pattern — general or in outline (generic authority) — for whatever the Bible teaches to be God's will about anything. If there isn't a general pattern that at least includes what we want to practice, there is no authority for it at all and it is sinful and wrong. There may not be a specific pattern, in detail as to method, but if the general outline of the teaching of the Bible does not include what we do, then we act by presumption and God has always condemned such action. He still does. A thing that is completely without authority is unlawful The brethren, who, like brother Thomas, labor to justify human institutions bunt by the church to do its work and other practices that have crept in to the churches demand that those of us who oppose their inventions must produce a pattern in detail, specifying even the methods, while they are not either willing or able to produce a general pattern that remotely includes by the wildest inference what they want to practice.

They accuse those of us who stand in opposition to their promotions of specifying as to methods which are to be employed by a congregation under the supervision of its own elders doing its work. This is false and unjust. I know of no one who tries to specify methods. We do believe that God has specified the organization and that therefore it is sinful to build another. We can readily and gladly give the "pattern" of the organization that God has specified in his word to do his will in any field. They are wholly unable to point out the Bible teaching that gives even an inference concerning the human organization which they are trying to defend. Brother Thomas either is honestly confused as to the difference between methods and organization — between how the work is done in specific ways and methods used and what organization does the work — or else he willfully misrepresents our position and confuses deliberately what the issue is all the way through his book as we shall develop later on by quotations therefrom.

But the major error that we want to point out in this article is the fact that he labors extensively and meticulously in his book to prove that there is no example that would exclude such human organizations in the work of the church and that there is nothing in Bible teaching that prohibits them and with a passing wave of the hand he dismisses the obligation to find some authority that includes them. It is amazing to see how lightly he takes the obligation to "get such organizations in" and how much effort he puts into trying to keep others from "keeping them out". This is pretty much in line with all of the loose talk that has been going on about those who oppose such institutions affirming a negative when they discuss these problems. Well, that is necessary if we affirm anything at all, for the scripturalness of our practice will not be denied. Would any of the institutional brethren dare deny that it is scriptural for a congregation, under the supervision of its own elders, by the ministration of its own deacons, out of the resources supplied by its own members to provide for its own destitute or needy? Will anyone deny that the congregation as an organization is sufficient to do this work? Brother Roy Deavers denied the sufficiency of the congregation to do the work which God appointed for it, in his debate with W. Curtis Porter at Dumas. But in the debate he said that was what the proposition which Porter was affirming said but he had intended to deny what he thought Porter meant by it. Many will affirm it and that is where we stand. We are, however, in debating this issue with our brethren, like we are in debating the instrumental music and missionary society question with the Christian church folk. If we affirm that it is scriptural to sing, will they deny it? Certainly not! If we affirm anything with them it must be a negative such as: The use of instrumental music in Christian worship is without scriptural authority and therefore sinful. It is what these brethren are practicing that is in question and they are therefore in the affirmative position and the burden of proof is theirs.

They do not like this affirmative obligation though and will shift it if you allow them to do so. Brother Thomas spent considerable time worrying about an example that excluded the benevolent society, the sponsoring church type of cooperation, etc., but he neglected to do what he was under obligation to do in the book. He should have spent his time finding the example or teaching otherwise that included these human arrangements. This he completely failed to do as we will see when we examine the scanty scriptural evidence he offers in that direction.

He tells us:

"In short, we at present face a rather complex problem of interpretation, and full thought and full reflection should be given to the hypothesis that may be discernible from all the data that can be assembled." page 17.

I have not been able to understand why it is any more complex than baptism for remission of sins or anything else the Bible teaches. We have never had any difficulty with using and properly applying the examples of conversion or the teaching of the Bible otherwise on conversion. To the sectarian who doesn't want to believe it these matters appear complex but he is looking at them through his sectarian glasses. Is it possible that we have ground us some sectarian lenses that will color what God says to suit what we want to practice?

We hear him further on this point:

"What we do mean when we emphasize the place of common sense, and the fact that its use is necessary for the interpreter, is that Hermeneutical Principles or rules of interpretation can never be detailed enough to cover all minor points of interpretation, and the application of common sense is thus needed for detailed matters." page 41.

Brother Thomas dotes rather heavily on common sense in his "rules of interpretation". In matters of application we are ready to agree that "common sense" plays a very important role. Sometimes we recognize principles laid down in divine revelation but are unable to make the proper application of them because of unsound judgment. However, common sense does not supply anything from the viewpoint of authority that the Bible leaves out. All the "common sense" on earth cannot authorize a thing that no commandment of Christ includes. Our Christian Church friends think that instrumental music is only a matter of common sense. Very few of them claim any Bible authority for it. Most of them recognize that there isn't any, but they presume that because it does so much for them, in their judgment, therefore God is willing to accept it and after all they say it is only an "aid" to singing and many of them say that it is a necessary aid for they can't sing without it. One preacher told me in a debate on instrumental music that we used the pitch pipe to get the pitch and they used the piano to keep the pitch and either was right when it was necessary to use it. Of course he was willing to admit that it was all right to sing without either for he said they were "optional aids" or matters of expediency. And, of course, he was willing to divide the church over such a matter of indifference because of what he wanted and liked. We are seeing such an attitude repeated all over again throughout the country.

Brother Thomas thinks that we cannot have "pattern authority" for anything except definite detailed requirements or specific authorizations in the Word of God. He states with great boldness:

"THERE ARE NO PATTERNS FOR OPTIONAL MATTERS OR EXPEDIENT THINGS. Unless the "sponsoring-church" type of cooperation can be proved to classify clearly on the Diagram of Authority as an excluded specific, it's clear and obvious classification as an optional expedient to the generic requirement, "Go, Preach," makes it unquestionably scriptural." (We will examine later its possible classification as a Box "ES" type matter.) But we must never conclude that an expedient choice can be regulated by pattern authority! It is a contradiction of terms." Page 46 — para. 1.

Here we see his most fundamental error in his conception of authority. He concludes that unless a thing is an "excluded specific" it is "unquestionably scriptural". Let us state his same proposition conversely and see where it leads us — Unless the "sponsoring church" type of cooperation can be proved to be an "included specific" it is "unquestionably unscriptural".

The first proposition is the attitude of digression. They have contended all along that a thing must be specifically prohibited or it is permissible. The second attitude is that of the non-Sunday School group who have contended all along that unless a thing is specifically authorized it is prohibited. Both are fundamentally wrong conceptions of authority and Brother Thomas' is as far from the truth as either the non-Sunday School group or the instrumental music and missionary society advocates.

On this point consider the following:

"How can any man conclude that the New Testament approves anything that it does not mention? So there is no need of all this careening around all over creation on this subject — a New Testament precept or precedent would settle the argument.


The Affirmative Argument

The demand has been made on us from time to time to affirm that instrumental music in worship is sinful. Logically, it is not required of us to do so, as it is the obligation of the one who practices a thing to affirm his practice. The man who practices sprinkling for baptism should affirm it; we deny it. The man who burns incense in worship should affirm it; we reject and deny it. So it is with this subject, the users of instrumental music are obligated to affirm that their practice is scriptural, and our task is to deny it. Nevertheless, the use of instrumental music in worship, being unscriptural, it is sinful; and as a positive negation, we have affirmed what amounts to a negative proposition in the direct and unequivocal words: Instrumental music in the worship of the church is sinful." — Bulwarks Of The Faith — Wallace, page 269 — Part Two.

These same statements apply equally to the church building human societies to do its work or to a perversion of God's organization, the congregation, into a brotherhood agency. If not, why don't they? All of this crying about us affirming our position that some of these brave institutional brethren are doing in the papers, is but subterfuge to avoid discussion. In the Birmingham debate with Guy N. Woods, we affirmed that "It is contrary to the scriptures for the churches of Christ to build and maintain benevolent organizations such as Boles Home, Child-haven, Tipton Orphans' Home, Gunter Home for the aged and other such homes for children and the aged as are among us to do their work of benevolence". Brother Woods reluctantly denied that proposition and complained that nothing at all was being affirmed. Of course, he would not deny that it is scripturally right for each congregation to take care of its own destitute. He should do it for that is what he preaches — that the church cannot do it — but he won't and neither will the rest.

It took four months of correspondence to get him to affirm that the Herald of Truth is scriptural. These brethren are not willing to affirm their practice without much complaining. They are always demanding someone affirm that they are "excluded" specifically but are not willing to affirm that they are "included" even generically in what the Bible teaches. Instead of demanding that someone produce the scriptural evidence that "rules out" these human arrangements, these brethren who have introduced them and practice them to the disruption of Christian fellowship need to find the authority in the scriptures that "get them in". Human societies to do the work of the Lord's church do not have to be "ruled out." There is only one way to "get them in" — that is by showing that they are included in what God has authorized in His Word and that they therefore are doing the thing taught. It is not enough to say, as Brother Thomas has, that they are not excluded specifically and therefore they can be brought in by the plea of "Christian Liberty' and "sanctified common sense". This is the gate that admitted instrumental music and all other innovations and the same arguments can be made for them that Brother Thomas has offered, if any, to justify human institutions built and supported by the church to do its work.

On this point we quote from another, words that better express this principle than we can write:

"(3) What constitutes scriptural authority?

"The New Testament outlines the things required as worship. These things must be kept "as delivered" by the apostles. (I Cor. 11:2.) Paul told the Ephesians that his "knowledge" came by revelation, "whereby when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge . . . which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." (E h. 3:3-5.) The apostles and prophets of the New Testament completed the revelation of God's will in the New Testament, and they left it complete without the mention of instrumental music in worship. But now the digressive preachers want to divide honors with the pope of Rome and imposter Joe Smith, by supplementing the work of the New Testament apostles and prophets."

"Paul said that we can read his knowledge — "whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge." Now where is the passage that any innovator has shown you, that you can go home and read, for the use of instrumental music in what they call "Christian worship?" Where is the command that requires the use of instrumental music to obey? Where is the New Testament passage that says use it, or that mentions it as being used in the worship?

"When the agitators for circumcision attempted to bind this Jewish practice on the church, the apostles answered: "We gave no such command." This was the proof that the agitators were acting without apostolic authority. So it means if there is no command, there is no authority: We gave no such command. In order for anything to be apostolic, the apostles must command it, in order for anything to be scriptural, the scriptures must teach it, by precept or approved example. No act of duty or of worship has ever been left to a mere inference, and if it were a necessary inference, it would be a thing indispensable to the command, therefore a part of the command." (Bulwarks of The Faith — Part Two — pages 254-255.)

From The Same Author We Quote Again:

"(3) The ground of acceptable religious action.

"There is no principle more clearly stated in the New Testament than that of faith as the only ground of acceptable action in the realm of religion. But faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom. 10:17) Someone is frequently heard to say: "You need not read the Bible to me, I already know what I believe." They do not believe anything. Anybody can make a guess without any evidence; and can formulate an opinion on very meager evidence; but nobody can exercise faith except that it rests upon the solid evidence of God's word. But we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7) — not by what seems to be all right; and faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17); and without faith it is impossible to please God. (Heb. 11:6.) These verses add up to something: No word of God, no? hearing the word; no hearing the word, no faith; no faith, no walking by faith; no walking by faith, no pleasing God.

"Some preachers think they have grown beyond these simple statements and plain passages, but they are scriptural principles and need to be re-emphasized with the same confidence which possessed the early preachers of the gospel, who stood on them and stemmed the tide of digression. When men think they know too much to rely on plainly stated principles of the New Testament, they have too much confidence in human wisdom, and they are not walking by faith. Faith stands on revelation; and when we enter the realm of religion, we stand in the realm of revelation." (Bulwarks of The Faith — Part Two, Page 277.)

These words from the eloquent lips of a great gospel preacher are just as applicable now to our present problems as they ever were to the problem of instrumental music. Is it any worse to corrupt the worship of the Church than to corrupt the government, organization or function of the church? Certainly not! If there "is no such command" given by the apostles of our Lord as grants to the church authority to build and support human institutions to do its work, then it is sinful for us to do it because it has no authority. Those who practice it are under obligation to find the authority for it in the word of God. We shall not allow them to shift the burden of proof but shall continue to insist that they produce the passage in the New Testament that includes the thing they are preaching and practicing. No dictum from the worldly wise professors in the so-called "Bible department" of any college will settle the question with any who have any respect for the word and will of the Lord.

In order that we may clearly understand that Brother Thomas appeals to what God has not said rather than to what God has said to establish his right to engage in his humanly authorized and humanly created projects as the work of the Lord's church, let us hear from him concerning his conception of the significance of the silence of the scriptures.

'The Significance Of Silence"

"Our Brethren have throughout the Restoration period of church history used a slogan, "We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent." Slogans can be helpful sometimes, if they are not expanded into creeds and made binding upon others. But they often can help clarify matters.

"What the expression 'silent where the Bible is silent' must mean, is that when all the full machinery of Biblical interpretation is brought to bear on a given point, if something is then clearly established as an excluded specific (Box 'ES' type) matter, then it is clearly unauthorized and is sinful. 'Silent where the Bible is silent' cannot mean that if some optional expedient or aid is not mentioned in scripture then it would be sinful". (Page 46 — paragraph two and three.)

From this it can readily be seen that Brother Thomas considers that anything that is not excluded specifically is permissible. There is no one who would insist that a matter of expediency or aid must be specifically mentioned in the scriptures in order to be included within the scope of the thing authorized. Our learned professor at Abilene insists that if the Bible does not specifically exclude a matter it is authorized though there may be nothing, absolutely nothing, taught in the scriptures that even includes it.

It is clearly manifest that our brother has fallen for the fundamental error used during the last hundred years by the Christian Church to justify their human societies and instrumental music. They have always raised the question, "Where does God prohibit or exclude these matters?" Then they insist that they can be used as aids or expedients in the worship and work of the Lord and refuse to see that they are not included within the scope of scriptural authority and are therefore not aids or expediencies but additions to what God has said.

But Let Him Say On:

"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, 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 blackboards or visual-aid equipment, revival meetings, radio preaching, air-conditioning 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; where every one of these things classify as optional expedients and therefore are not governed in any wise by pattern authority. Patterns apply only to required matters!"

Our brother recognizes "We speak where the Bible speaks and where the Bible is silent we are silent" only as a brotherhood slogan. He even capitalized "BROTHERHOOD". What he needs to recognize is that it is not a slogan at all nor does it belong to any "BROTHERHOOD.' It is a divine principle binding on all who have any respect for God's with Peter put it in these words, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." (I Pet. 4:11.)

He tells us that the scripture was silent as far as Pine wood for Noah's Ark is concerned. Here again he demonstrates that he has the idea that God did not specifically say, "Do not use Pine wood", therefore God was silent as to Pine wood for the ark. This is false. God did say "Do not use Pine" but he said it by specifying "Gopher" and not by direct prohibition. Pine is not included in Gopher wood. It is excluded in it and by it. To use Pine would be an addition not an aid. It would have been a substitute and sinful disobedience to God's instructions. Even so, if Noah had used Gopher wood but built something that was not according to the pattern given for the Ark, he would have sinned for God commanded him to build an ARK out of Gopher wood and not only an ark but he gave the plan for the Ark. In just this same way God has given the plan for the government, organization and function of the church. The only organization God has given is the congregation — a local church — through which to accomplish the work of his church. When we build any other organization or pervert God's organization until it is not subject to the government he established for it, we have added that which God excluded by specifying the organization and government he wanted just like he specified the plan and material that went into the ark.

How does our brother avoid such a conclusion in his reasoning? It is obvious, he ignores the specific organization God gave his church and classifies all the human organizations which he tries to justify as "optional expedients" because God did not specifically say, "Thou shalt build no other organizations". It should be plain to any mind that is not running in the circles of human wisdom that when God, specified the organization of the church — a congregation — he was not silent as to human organizations for the church and its work but excluded them because he did not include them in his plan. They are not aids or optional expedients as our brother claims but are additions to God's arrangements that have come by human will and wisdom and that impeach the wisdom of God and the sufficiency of his ways.

His reference in the paragraph quoted above to "riding in aeroplanes, using blackboards or visual-aid equipment, printed books of sermons", etc., misses the point again. The Bible is not silent as to these matters actually. They are not specifically mentioned and that is what our brother thinks is meant by the "silence of the scriptures". This is his fallacy. Riding in anything is authorized by the generic command to "go" and since God specified no way in which we go — whether we ride or walk — it is included in what God did command. Blackboards, visual-aid equipment, printed sermons, etc., are all included in the command to "teach." God is not silent about them. He included them by the fact that he did not specify the particular means of teaching. God is not silent in this same way about human organizations to do the work of the church, or as to one congregation becoming a brotherhood agency, for God did specify the organization through which Christians are to do what he assigned, the church to do — the congregation with its elders. He also fixed the jurisdiction of the elders of a congregation as over the members, resources, work, worship, and fellowship of the congregation where they are elders, as we shall abundantly see in this study as we go along. If our brother classifies such matters with "Pine wood for Noah's ark" then they are "excluded specifics" and therefore sinful. If, on the other hand, he classifies these human organizations and the "brotherhood agency" plan for the congregation along with "riding in an aeroplane, blackboards, visual-aids and printed sermons" as "optional expedients", he also must make an "optional expedient" out of the organization which God authorizes, the congregation, for they are co-ordinate elements. He is in trouble whichever route he takes with his own illustration with his wonderful chart which he thinks solves all problems. This we shall see in our next article.

We continue to insist that our brother and those who stand with him are under obligation to produce something that God has said that includes — even as optional expedients or aids — the authority to build and maintain human organizations through which to do the work of the Lord's Church. Until they produce the passage that does include these human organizations, they stand branded as bold and blatant additions to God's plan and therefore in disregard of His authority. That means that they are sinful because the Bible is silent concerning them and because they are excluded by what God did authorize specifically.