Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 17, 1959
NUMBER 19, PAGE 1,10-14a

Bible Authority And "Common Sense"

Roy E. Cogdill, Nacogdoches, Texas

(This is the fifth in a series of articles in review of the book "We Be Brethren," by J. D. Thomas.)

We have seen in previous articles that the book "We Be Brethren" by J. D. Thomas has approached the problems of the benevolent work of the church and congregational cooperation by a circuitous route rather than facing up to them forthrightly. Brother Thomas and other brethren bent upon justifying the churches in building and maintaining human organizations to do their work, and the pooling of resources and centralization of power and control under one eldership, should honestly and sincerely lay aside all of their subterfuge, duplicity, ambiguity, sophistry, and their high and mighty air of superiority, and recognize that they are in an affirmative relation to such practices and it is their obligation to produce clear and understandable Bible teaching that authorizes what they want to practice. It is not enough for them to put on airs to make us think they are so superior in intellect, training, or spiritual discernment and insight, that we should accept their judgment about such matters.

We are all entitled to the scriptural proof, clear and plain, that such practices are in harmony with the will of Christ before they are crammed down our throats and we are forced to participate in something in the church of God in which our faith must stand in the wisdom of man rather than in the word of God. We have not been able to find such scriptural proof. We have begged for it. So far all that has been offered is sophistry, human wisdom, the plea that they are not "specifically excluded" by the scriptures, and the contention that there is no "pattern," so we can do what we please about these matters.

Brother Thomas relies mainly on the fact that these corruptions and departures from God's order are not "specifically excluded" by "pattern authority" and upon his superior learning and his own judgment. We are not willing for this to settle the question. We want and must have a "Thus saith the Lord" that includes these institutional arrangements which churches think they have the right to affect. We have the right and obligation for our faith to stand upon the word of God and not in the wisdom of men. (I Cor. 2:1-5.) Brother Thomas' own words accuse him in these matters of a denominational attitude:

"As far as our diagram is concerned the Denominationalist accepts some matters of the box "ES" type as being scriptural and proper — for instance, instrumental music in worship. He would say that the command to sing does not exclude the use of the instrument. In other words, he feels perfectly free to add to or take from the required matters, in line with his own traditions; yet all the while he feels that he is definitely showing allegiance to the Bible. He is not strictly conscious of the need to interpret carefully and exactingly; so in general, our evaluation of this man is that he is somewhat loose and careless about God's exact requirements and accepts many items of human authority, (Box "ES" type), without really being aware that he is not being fair to the Bible, to himself, and to God" Page 29 — Paragraph 1.

We are compelled to say in response to the above statement quoted from our brother, "Wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things". (Rom. 2:1.) Brother Thomas you are guilty of exactly what you charge the "Denominationalist" with doing.

It is not difficult to see that the organization which God gave the local church, the only organization of the church, is just as specific in the field of organization as singing is in the field of music. "Sing" and "play" are coordinate acts in the field of music. Singing and instrumental, or vocal and instrumental, music are coordinate kinds of music. So are the organization which God designed for his church, local church or congregation, and human organizations coordinates. One is divinely designed and the other is of human design. One is authorized in the scriptures and the other is not. They are both organizations. They differ in form, authority, and origin, but they occupy the same field — that of organizations. Since God specifically requires the congregational form set forth in N. T. scriptures (Phil. 1:1), he has therefore specifically excluded the other form, the corporate body or whatever form the human organization may take In sharp contrast they stand:

The church in its universal nature has no head on earth, no headquarters on earth, no central authority or governing body on earth, no universal or joint mission, and therefore no universal organization on earth. Churches of Christ (Romans 16:16) have a common head, Christ in heaven. They have a common authority, the Gospel of Christ. (II John 9-11.) They have a common purpose or mission, "to seek and save the lost". They have a common form of organization — Phil 1:1.

This local organization of the church is the only one that the scriptures set forth. There is no other either within or without this specific one. There is none larger or smaller. This local organization or body is identified specifically by divine authority in the Gospel both as to form and function.

Chart Should Be Up Here

The function of the local church is not in the field of economic enterprise or money making. It is not in the field of social reform. It is not in the field of domestic relations. It is not in the field of secular education. It is not in the field of government or political science. Its function is spiritual and is divinely designated as spiritual only.

This is not "a pattern" but "the pattern" for the organization of the local church and its function. There is no other. It is as specific as to form and function as singing is to music. Why should Brother Thomas think to "add to or take from the required matters, in line with his own traditions; yet all the while he feels that he is definitely showing allegiance to the Bible". He condemns the "denominationalist" for so doing and then is just as guilty himself. In the above quotation he has this further to say.

"He is not strictly conscious of the need to interpret carefully and exactingly; so, in general, our evaluation of this man is that he is somewhat loose and careless about God's exact requirements and accepts many items of human authority, (Box "ES" type), without really being aware that he is not being fair to the Bible, to himself, or to God" Page 29 — Paragraph 1.

Yet when we plead with him and other brethren not to take exactly the same attitude about the organization of the Lord's Church, he accuses us of being "legalists." It appears to depend with him on whether he is for or against as to whether he is a "legalist" or a "liberalist". He works on one side when he opposes something which has only "human authority" and then switches to the other side when he is for something which has only "human authority". His preferences and judgment do not affect the will of God, however, and he should know that. If accepting "items of human authority" is being unfair with the Bible, with himself, and with God, when the denominationalist does it, and if that is what makes one a "Denominationalist", then Brother Thomas is one when it comes to churches building and maintaining human organizations to do their work. It is our contention that corrupting God's order in organization or function is as much denominationalism and makes one a "denominationalist" just as much as corrupting God's order in worship. If not, why not?

In the above chart we illustrate the three ways of establishing divine authority by the scriptures. We need to understand of course, that the Bible does not authorize what it does not teach. If the scriptures, the gospel of Christ, do not teach it, whatever it is, then the Lord does not authorize it. But how does the Bible teach or authorize a thing ? The Bible teaches by 1) express command or precept, as illustrated in the command to keep the Lord's Supper — "This do in remembrance of me", I Cor. 11:2324; 2) by approved example (apostolic approval) as illustrated by Paul meeting with the saints in Troas on "the first day of the week" for the purpose of "breaking bread", Acts 20:7; and 3) by necessary inference — that is, it is necessarily inferred from the clear and unmistakable import or meaning of the language used. These are the only three ways in which we can learn from the scriptures what the church can or cannot do. If the passage cannot be found that falls into one of these three categories authorizing the church of the Lord, either generically or specifically, to build human organizations to do the work of the church in any field, evangelism, benevolence, or edification, they are not authorized by the scriptures.

"Common Sense" with all of the human wisdom and education that a man can acquire will not augment or substitute for divine authority. Brother Thomas, as do other institutional brethren, pays lip service to divine authority and even to these three means of establishing divine authority, and then without even an apology for his inconsistency and the glaring contradiction it evidences, makes his appeal to "common sense". How in the name of "common sense" can Bible authority be necessary if common sense justifies anything without it? Such tripping back and forth is not "common sense". It is nonsense of the first order!

None of us would deny that it takes good common sense to make the right application of Bible Teaching to our every day living and our service and worship to the Lord. But that is in the field of applying Bible teaching and not in the field of what the Bible teaches or authorizes. Brother Harper invented the idea of "principle eternal" to try to get around Bible authority. He didn't make it. Brother Thomas, while claiming originality, falls back on the old "digressive" plea of "Sanctified Common Sense". It will do no better.

In fact, this appeal to common sense while paying lip service to Bible authority is just one of the several contradictory positions our brother takes in his book. If there must be Bible authority for what the church does, then where is the realm in which "common sense" permits and justifies anything that is not authorized? If, on the other hand, common sense will serve as a substitute for authority from the scriptures, then what is the realm in which we must have Bible authority?

The appeal to common sense is but an appeal to presumption — the presumption of human wisdom upon the will of God, and this has always been condemned. God condemned Israel for doing "every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes". This destroys all standards of authority and leaves everyone to worship his own intellect. It would destroy the Bible as a standard of authority and open the gate for every egotistical presumption of every "intellectual" in the church to trust in his own wisdom and walk in his own ways. We could practice whatever seems good to us whether God has said anything that includes it or not.

In his book, "The Christian Union Overture", Frederick D. Kershner, Professor of Christian Doctrine of Drake University, makes an eloquent plea for common sense and pinpoints the substance of such a plea for anything in these words:

"Not only does the Declaration assert the essentially Protestant principle of the right of private judgment. but it also emphasizes what has been called the formal principle of the Reformation; that is, the supreme authority of the Scriptures. Campbell was a disciple of Chilling-worth in that he asserted that the Bible and the Bible alone is the religion of Protestantism. The Bible, interpreted freely in accordance with the individual or rational conscience and judgment, furnishes the religious standard of the Declaration. (emphasis mine — R. E. C.) The Bible is authoritative for Thomas Campbell in the fullest sense of the word, but he will not be bound by "any human interpretation" of the text. Critics of Mr. Campbell, at this point, have urged that his one principle contradicts the other, that is to say that both the Scripture text and the personal judgment of the individual cannot be authoritative. If we make the latter supreme, it reduces the other to unimportance and visa versa. This is the favorite argument of what are sometimes called the "inner consciousness advocates". Their position is that there can be no authority beyond individual conscience and judgment inasmuch as these must determine the meaning of Scripture and therefore possess the ultimate and final word. It is quite trivial, they say, to speak of the Bible as the only authority when by that expression you mean always the Bible as interpreted by this or the other person. Where there is no common standard of interpretation there is no common standard of authority. To talk, therefore, of the scriptures as supreme and private judgment as also supreme is to talk nonsense. The scriptures are authoritative only as you and I interpret them for ourselves, and since I am not bound by your interpretation nor are you bound by mine nor either of us by any other man's, there is no such thing as any common Scripture. I have a Bible and you have a Bible and the other man has a Bible and our Bibles are all different because they are the result of several intellectual processes upon the text. This being true, we must either give up one thing or the other. We must affirm the authority of the text as interpreted by some definite common principle (the method of Roman Catholicism) or we must assert the right of private judgment as absolute and independent of any other consideration" — Pages 41-42.

After thus pointing out the argument made against Mr. Campbell's appeal to both the authority of the scriptures and the right of private judgment, Mr. Kershner points out in his book that the solution of the problem was found in denominationalism in the writing of human creeds. This was the effort to establish the standard of "interpretation" needed in appealing to the authority of the scriptures. Of course, it was found that human creeds had to be "interpreted" by the individual to suit himself, in the right of private judgment, just like the Scriptures. So they had solved nothing.

Having reached this point in his discussion, however, Mr. Kershner tells us what he believes is the solution of the problem and what he conceives to be Campbell's solution to the problem. It is solved by him in these words:

"What solution of the Protestant enigma are we to gather from the platform put forth by Thomas Campbell? It is quite obvious that he rejects in toto the creedal method which he saw clearly enough had been definitely discredited by past experience and history. On the other hand, he is a thorough-going Protestant and certainly manifests no sympathy with the Roman Catholic idea of centering authority in the church. Still further, he indicates no disposition to surrender either private judgment or the authority of the Scriptures. How then does he reconcile the two? The answer to this question lies at the very heart of the religious movement which arose, in large measure, as a result of his teachings.

"The first consideration which it is necessary to keep in mind in order to understand the doc-

trine of authority embodied in the Declaration and Address is the belief of its author in the substantial infallibility of what may be called "the common mind." Both Thomas and Alexander Campbell believed in a universal reason which makes possible unity of thought on the part of individuals. This common reason or common mind, when applied to the scriptures, would necessarily yield the same interpretation and in this way guarantee unity of thought and action. Both of the Campbells rejected the idea that any individual judgment with regard to the Scriptures should be considered authoritative, but they were assured that the judgment of the common mind or the universal reason could not be mistaken. Hence the scriptures, interpreted as above indicated, constituted for them an infallible and universal authority.

"Doubtless some one is asking at this point how the common mind is to be detected, and what guarantee we can have in any given case that our individual private judgment coincides with the universal reason. Mr. Campbell would unquestionably have answered the question by an appeal to the intellectual majority. Whatever the great bulk of thoughtful men agree upon as touching the interpretation of Scripture is doubtless an expression of the common mind upon the subject" (Emphasis mine — R. E. C.) (The Christian Union Overture — Frederick D. Kershner pages 43-44.)

Now, is this what Brother Thomas means by common sense as a means of "interpreting" what the scriptures authorize? There is no other course. Either we are limited by our common sense to an application of truth or we must reach some standard in the realm of common sense — somebody's common sense — as to what the Word of God teaches. Are we to take the route of popery and allow some of our "intellectuals" to determine the matter for us? Or are we to get all of the leading "intellectuals" (or as our Brother Thomas would say — the "trained thinkers" or "school men trained in logic") among us together and let them determine the question by an "appeal to the intellectual majority" as the Drake Professor, Frederick Kershner, would advocate. Whose "common sense," Brother Thomas, can furnish the basis of unity? Of course, it is not difficult to see that our learned brother thinks that those of us who do not belong to the "intellectual majority" have very little common sense or we would not oppose all of these modern innovations. But I learned when a child from an old man who used to visit my grandfather that "mother wit", as he expressed it and "book learning" are not necessarily twins. Many of the great Gospel preachers who fought the battle against denominationalism all over this country had enough confidence in the Word of God — per se — without any "interpretation" of a private nature, to stand upon it and put to flight the "armies of aliens" with it. Let the Bible interpret the Bible. This is what Peter meant anyway when he said, "No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation". We must speak as the "oracles of God" and everything God has said must be understood and applied in the light of all God has said — on that same theme or question. This is the safe way to determine truth and its application. Take all truth into consideration.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the "head over all things to the church, which is his body". (Eph. 1:23.) The church then is the realm over which the Lord exercises absolute authority. It is the only realm over which he reigns as head and in which his authority is absolute in the lives of men. In every other realm his teaching binds those who are his subjects to submit to other divinely established authority. In the family the woman is subject to the man, the children to the parents. In the government we are subject to the "powers that be" as long as they are not contrary to the will of the Lord. In every realm his authority is supreme but in the church of the Lord his authority is absolute and there is no other but his. The church can do only what he gives his consent for it to do or what he authorizes. There must be found within his word either specific authority or a commandment that includes, within its scope, these benevolent institutions and other human organizations which churches are building or every contention that can be made for them falls flat and is unavailing. We must have the passage, the authority from the word of God, established by one of these avenues through which the Bible teaches us what the will of the Lord is, that gives the churches the right to build human organizations and maintain them through which to do their work in caring for the destitute or in anything else.

Let us note that Bible Authority is either Generic or Specific.

God commanded Noah to build the ark; in Gen. 6:14 we find the record. If he had commanded him to make it out of "wood," then there would have been no kind of wood that he could not have used by the authority given. But God specified "gopher" and by doing so eliminated every other kind. Specifying excludes everything of the same order, kind, or class. It does not exclude anything that is not in the same order or class but it eliminates everything of the same kind or species. We can see this even from a straight line, if we are not blinded by our prejudices.

In like manner, God commanded the water of cleansing in Numbers 19:2. It was to be made of the ashes of a red heifer without spot or blemish mixed with cedar wood and hyssop, and scarlet. God prescribed the manner in which it was to be made and used. Again God specified. It must be a heifer. Any other animal would not do. Every other animal was eliminated — became an excluded specific for the reason that God made the choice and did not leave it to Israel. In his choice he excluded every other kind of animal by including and specifying that it must be a heifer. You don't need our brother's "wavy line chart" to see that, now do you? We need only to let God mean what he says.

In the same way, God specified in the church the kind of "music" by which he is to be praised, (Eph. 5:18-19; Col. 3:16.) If he had simply said for us to praise him, we could use any method of praise, shouting, dancing, etc. But he specified that we are to praise him by music — making melody. The New Testament specifies the kind of music that is to be made in praise to God — singing. It also specifies the instrument upon which the melody is to be made unto God — the heart. Every other instrument is eliminated by the specific choice that God made in the matter and every other kind of music is eliminated by the fact that God specified the kind he wants and will accept. We should have all learned this well by this time for it has been argued through one hundred years in our efforts to teach our brethren who wanted to corrupt the worship of the Lord by the addition of another kind of music. God did not specifically prohibit in express terms. He eliminated every other kind by selecting the kind he wanted. We are limited, without choice except to rebel against God, to that selection. There is no authority for the use of mechanical instruments of music. God did not include them in his command but specified the kind that excludes them, and therefore they are without authority and wrong.

Today God commands the church to evangelize the world with the Gospel of Christ. In this work the church is the "pillar and ground of the truth", (I Tim. 3:15.) In I Thess. 1:7-8 we have the example of the Thessalonian Church being commended by Paul for doing this work. If God had given the church no organization through which to work, but had simply commanded the church to do it, the churches could have built any kind of an organization they chose. But God did not leave the matter general and command the church to accomplish this mission without giving to the church an organization. God specified the organization of the church through which his will is to be done. It is as definitely specified as the kind of music we are to offer in worship to him. The one and only organization specified by God is the local church — the congregation. He did not specify the particular means and methods to be employed by the congregation in evangelism — but he specified the organization that is to do it. This organization, specified by God, eliminates every other organization in the church just as surely as singing eliminates playing upon instruments.

On this point we quote from another of recognized influence and ability:

"Accordingly, if the command authorizing music in the worship of God had been given in the general terms just supposed, the conclusion would be inevitable that whether it were on one kind of instrument or another, would be wholly immaterial, since each and all alike are embraced in the generic term "music;" and if we were making either vocal or instrumental music, or making the latter on any one or more of the numerous kinds of instruments, we would, in each and every case, be obeying the divine command. Reverting, for the moment, to our principle as formerly illustrated, we are commanded to "go" to men with the gospel; and whether we walk or ride, or whether we ride in one or another of the numerous ways of riding, we are, in each and every case, obeying the divine command to "go". But if we are commanded to "walk" to men with the gospel, all methods of going otherwise would be excluded, and we would be compelled to walk if we obeyed the command.

"The same principle applies in precisely the same way to the religious organization under which, and through which, God's children are to work. If he had merely commanded them to work without giving them an organization through which, and under which, to work, with its divinely appointed board of supervisors and managers to look after the work, then they could obey the command by forming for themselves an organization for that purpose and appointing a board of supervisors to look after the work. But the Lord has given them an organization, and has specifically named its board of overseers and managers.

"Now turning to the word of God with renewed attention to our main theme, we find that Christians are nowhere commanded to make music in the praise of the Lord. This shows that it is not merely music that God wants in the worship, and that, if he wants music at all, it must be music of a special kind. Having seen that no generic term authorizing both vocal and instrumental music is used in the New Testament, we proceed now to the first division on the descending scale of classification and inquire, is there any term used which is more specific and which limits the music to one of these kinds, and if so, to which kind? It must be evident to every thoughtful person that, in a case of two or more coordinate species, if God limits his command to one of the species, we do not obey that command when we use another; and if God has limited his directions for music in the worship to one of different coordinate kinds, we cannot be loyal to his directions without we limit our practice in the same way".

"Instrumental Music in the Worship" — M. C. Kurfees — Pages 77-79.

The principle discussed so clearly and pointedly by Brother Kurfees many years ago is just as applicable today. He saw then that the same principle applied to the organization of the church as to the kind of music we use in worship to God. The fact that God has specified the organization of the church excludes every other organization for the reason that God has limited his arrangement and command to just one of the species and has appointed its form and we do not obey his command when we use another.

This is not only, in the work of evangelism, the principle by which the missionary society is ruled out but in every other work of the church is just as effective in excluding human organizations built by the church to do its work. God has commanded the church to edify itself. He did not give the church the choice of what kind of an organization it would build to do this work of edification. If he had, the church might correctly have built and maintained such a school as Abilene College. But God selected the organization and designed it himself. It is a local church. (Phil. 1:1. Eph. 4:16) By his selection of this specific organization, he eliminated such an organization as Abilene College in the edification of the church. It is not and cannot be scriptural as a church institution or when supported by the church to do any work. This is just as surely true as that a "red heifer" eliminated and excluded every other kind of an animal in the water of cleansing.

God also has commanded his church to relieve certain destitute people. (I Tim. 5:16.) That work might have been done through a multiplicity of organizations both already in existence and yet to be fashioned. But God did not leave the church to choose the kind of an organization it would use in doing its work of relieving the destitute. He specified the organization to do this work of relieving. It is the local church, the congregation. This is the only organization God has given the church. This specific arrangement — God's own choice — eliminates any choice upon the part of the church. The matter is settled — the choice is made and God made it. That should settle the question with every God-fearing Christian on earth for all time to come. God eliminated every other organization in the benevolent work of the church by choosing the specific organization through which we are to accomplish this and every work of the church.

We especially want to call the attention of Brother Thomas and other brethren to the fact that no one — absolutely no one — that we know anything about, is insisting that God has specified the methods and means which this local church can use in accomplishing this mission or any other which God has given his church to do. Neither are we undertaking to "legislate" for him in specifying the methods and means to be employed by a congregation. This charge in Brother Thomas' book is absolutely false and is a complete misrepresentation of all of us. There is no excuse for Brother Thomas not knowing that we have not done so. He should apologize and correct it for it is calculated to arouse prejudice, is an appeal to such, and is unfair and unjust. Yet it is repeatedly made in his book. We will see what he will do about it and how interested he is in acting like "we be brethren".

Methods and means are employed by organizations. They are not coordinate with organizations. Brother Woods objected to the missionary society in one of the debates with Brother Porter on the ground that it is an organization that employs means and methods. This is also true of the congregation. The organization of the missionary society is coordinate with the congregation in the field of missionary or evangelistic endeavor. Both organizations must use means to do the work. In like manner, such organizations as Boles Home, Inc. is not a method or means but an organization. It uses methods and means — provides property for shelter, necessaries of life, and supervision and care for the children for which this organization is responsible. So does the congregation use methods and means in providing for its destitute. It must provide shelter for those for whom it cares if they do not have it. It must also provide the necessaries of life and supervision and care for those who must have it who are subjects of its "relief". These organizations — that of the benevolent society chartered by the state under the name of "Boles Home, Inc,." and the local church in any community — are therefore coordinates when it comes to "relieving" the destitute. One is a divine arrangement and the other is human. One is ordained of God and commanded to "relieve" the other is built and supported by churches that profess to be serving the Lord to do exactly the same thing. It is not obedience to God's command to the church. It is a human organization which is unauthorized so far as the church is concerned and is excluded and eliminated by the divine arrangement of the organization for the church specified in New Testament scriptures. This is what makes instrumental music unscriptural and wrong... It makes such human organizations as Boles Home and all others like it unscriptural and wrong when built and maintained by the churches to do their work. There is no authority for such. Brother Thomas has not produced it and cannot do so from the word of God and as smart and well educated as he is, we are not willing to accept his word for it.