Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 22, 1959
NUMBER 24, PAGE 1,10b-14a

When Is A New Testament Example Binding?

Roy E. Cogdill, Nacogdoches, Texas

(A Review of We Be Brethren by J. D. Thomas — Professor Bible Department, Abilene Christian College)

In the previous article we noticed the effort Brother Thomas made in his book, "We Be Brethren" to avoid the force of the rule of interpretation which we chose to call "The Rule of Harmony" in our book, "Walking By Faith". Brother Thomas was considerably bothered with "single-occurrence" incidents or examples and their effect from the viewpoint of authority. We suggested in the former article (No. VII) that what he needed to find was a "single-occurrence" (at least) example of what he is practicing under the guise of cooperation. His trouble is that he can't find even a "single-occurrence" precept, example (approved or unapproved), or inference (necessary or unnecessary) of what he preaches and practices. There is no scripture and therefore no scriptural authority for what these brethren are practicing. There is no wonder why they can't defend it by the Bible. All they have is sophistry and their own human wisdom and judgment to depend upon. The rest of us are not willing to accept that.

Sometimes the question is asked, "What difference does it make whether each congregation takes care of its own "charge" in the work of "relieving the destitute" or all of the churches do their work through a human organization built and maintained by them for that purpose?" The difference exactly is this: ONE IS FOUND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE OTHER IS NOT!

Then sometimes brethren are heard to ask, "What difference does it make whether a church sends a preacher and supports the preacher by sending money to him or sends the money to a church and lets that church support a preacher with it?" The difference again is exactly this. ONE PRACTICE IS FOUND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE OTHER IS NOT!

What difference does it make whether each church does its own work by using its own resources under the supervision of its own eldership or pools its resources with another congregation or congregations under the supervision of another eldership, as is the case with the Highland Church and the Herald of Truth, as a means of cooperating in fulfilling their mission? The difference is exactly this. ONE IS FOUND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE OTHER IS NOT FOUND THERE!

What difference does it make whether a church sends its contribution to a preacher or church directly or through another congregation as its agent? The difference is exactly this: "ONE IS FOUND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE OTHER IS NOT FOUND THERE!

Of course, the fact that a thing is found in the New Testament doesn't mean much to some people when they want to practice something that is not found there and are not careful about following Scriptural authority for what they do. They will brush aside all the principles of righteousness revealed in the precepts of the Lord's Word. Every example approved by apostolic authority, and every inference that is necessarily the result of the clear and unmistakable import of the language of the word of God, they will wave aside with a casual remark, "That is just a truism" or "such an example is not binding" or "that is legalism to insist on following that example" and insist that "there is no pattern and we are at liberty to do what we please in regard to this matter".

What constitutes a pattern of authority anyway? Perhaps a plain statement on this matter will help clear our confusion about it. What would be wrong with this? THE SUM TOTAL OF NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING ON ANY QUESTION CONSTITUTES THE PATTERN OF THE LORD'S WILL UPON THAT QUESTION! Can even our learned brother find any fault with that? If so, what is wrong with it?

Then we raise again the question, HOW DOES THE NEW TESTAMENT TEACH US? And once again the answer, "THE NEW TESTAMENT TEACHES BY PRECEPT OR EXPRESS COMMAND, APPROVED APOSTOLIC EXAMPLE, AND BY NECESSARY INFERENCE". Whatever the New Testament teaches to be the will of God for us today must be found embraced in one of these three methods of teaching. This has always been recognized by brethren in Christ from Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address until now except by the uninformed and incorrigible souls who want their own way no matter what God may say and there have been some like that in every generation. Their honest attitude could be expressed by saying, "We want it and we are going to have it, no matter whether the Bible teaches it or not". They pacify their consciences, if any, by crying "Liberty! Liberty!" when there is no such liberty. Or they camouflage their disregard for God's Word by appealing to the "great good we are doing", as if God is more pleased with sacrifice than with obedience in our age. But thinking people who reverence the Word of God will not be fooled by such deceitful sophistry and subterfuge. Their demand will continue to be, "Chapter and verse, Please", "What doth it say?", "To the law and to the testimony", and if the passage cannot be produced that does set forth such practice in some manner, they will not engage in it in order to have fellowship with anyone.

The fact remains that Brother Thomas cannot find the New Testament teaching that supports the "indirect method" which makes a "brotherhood" agency out of God's arrangement for a local church. He cannot and has not found any New Testament teaching setting forth the right of the churches to build a human society to do any of their work, cooperatively or otherwise. He has not found and will not find in the New Testament any passage that sets forth the teaching that one church can become ambitious and promote a big work upon the prospect of getting its hands into the treasuries of other churches and appropriating their resources in order to fulfill their ambitions. He cannot and will not find one New Testament church contributing to another New Testament church unless it was in need. He cannot and will not find a church in the New Testament sending its support for preaching the gospel through another church to any preacher. Let him find these things set forth in New Testament scriptures — either precept or example, and all of our opposition to them in the church of the Lord will cease. We can then "Be Brethren" indeed and not simply in lip-service. Write another book, Brother Thomas and this time produce the plain passage of scripture that we can all understand that sets forth any of these things in any manner and we will all be satisfied.

The application of the rule of uniformity to the question of church cooperation is plain and positive.

"(1) When many churches cooperated with a preacher by supporting him while preaching the gospel, they sent directly to the individual whom they were supporting. (II Cor. 11:8; Philippians 4:15-18.) Philippi sent directly to Paul by their messenger Epaphroditus. (Phil. 2:25.)

"(2) When many churches cooperated with the Jerusalem church by contributing to help meet the needs of the Jerusalem saints, they made up their own funds, selected their own messenger or messengers and sent it direct to Jerusalem. (I Cor. 16:1-4; II Col. 8:16-24,)

"(3) When Antioch made up a contribution for the brethren in Judea during the famine there they sent it by the hands of their own messengers — Paul and Barnabas — to the elders of the church in need. (Acts 11:27-30.)

"(4) There is no precept, example or inference that any church contributed to any work through another church. A 'centralizing' of the funds of many churches and the control over them in a 'sponsoring church' is unknown to the New Testament scriptures. There is no variation from the pattern that when a contribution was made by any congregation, from its treasury to any work it was sent, always, directly to the work being done and never through any church as an intermediate agency. There is complete "uniformity" and no variation at all in the pattern in all New Testament examples of one church contributing to another church." (Walking By Faith — page 23)

We have not demanded that there must be an example. We do not occupy the position and have not advocated that unless "an example" can be produced, a practice cannot be scriptural. This is just another "straw man" misrepresentation in the book. (Page 30, 32, 137). Such an implication should be corrected along with other false representations in the book. In his own language we indict him, "But in all these. ***there has been not one point of real facing of the issue — there has been only wordy claims". Where do you find what you teach on these matters taught, exemplified, or implied in New Testament Scriptures? That is the real issue and it has not been faced forthrightly. Can the New Testament authorize a thing which it does not teach? Can it teach a thing which it does not either generically or specifically set forth in precept, example, or inference? This is the issue and we are determined that brethren shall not forget it!

The Rule Of Unity

The rule of Unity was stated like this:

"This is sometimes called the law of harmony. It means that each passage of scripture whether precept or example must be interpreted in the light of whatever and all else God has said on the same theme. Truth is always in harmony with truth. Any example that violates any precept of truth is not an approved example."

and in the application of this rule to the problems at hand today on the subject of cooperation we had this to say:

"1. The rule illustrated or exemplified:

(1) Divine precept fixes the jurisdiction of the authority of the elders of a congregation as over the "flock over which they have been made bishops." Acts 20:28. Or 'the flock which is among you"." I Peter 5:2.

(2) When Antioch sent her contribution to aid the "brethren in Judea" in time of drouth, they sent it to the "elders."

a. There were "churches of God which in Judea are in Christ" among the "brethren which dwelt in Judea" I Thess. 2:14.

b. God's order was and is elders in every church. Acts 14:23.

c.The contribution sent to the brethren in Judea by the hands of Paul and Barnabas was delivered into the hands of the elders. What elders? Why the elders among the "brethren which dwelt in Judea". Since there was more than one congregation and since each congregation had elders, we are free to conclude that the contribution from Antioch was placed in the hands of the elders of each church that was in need and that distribution among its needy members was made under the supervision of its own elders.

d. The conclusion reached by some that the Jerusalem elders received the contribution for all the brethren in Judea and distributed it among them is not only without any basis in fact but is clearly out of harmony with the teaching of the Bible elsewhere on the jurisdiction of an eldership". (Walking By Faith) — page 24.

This was the second rule offered in our book, "Walking By Faith", and Brother Thomas paid no attention to the discussion accompanying it. He discounts and discredits its effect on Bible examples by saying "This hypothesis for determining when an example establishes a pattern is really more of a general rule for interpreting the Bible, than it is for distinguishing between binding and non-binding examples".(Page 82 — Para. 2) Now that is a remarkable statement and especially when you find it on the same page with this one. "The main reasons our tensions have developed is because no one on either side has had a clear-cut criterion for interpreting examples". (Page 82 — Para. 1) The first statement definitely implies that while a rule or "hypothesis" might help interpret the Bible, it is of no help in distinguishing between binding and non-binding examples. The last statement admits that examples must be interpreted. Our brother says that the great problem is to determine whether or not a New Testament example is "binding". Then he tells us that the "general rules" for interpreting the Bible cannot determine this but that there must be some special rule for examples alone. On top of these statements we find this one, "There is no information in the Acts 20:7 context alone, that says that the Troas Brethren were keeping a required obligation when they partook of the supper on the first day of the week". Therefore, we must conclude that he thinks that an "example alone" does not establish a pattern but that we must go to other Bible teaching to find the pattern. He demonstrates this necessity of going to other passages, separate and remote from the example, by arguing that the example of Acts 20:7 must be amplified by I Cor. 11:20-26, I Cor: 16:1-2, Hebrews 10:25, in order to set forth a binding pattern. Of course this is not true. The best way to find out that it is not true is to remember that neither of these additional passages which he has cited mentions "breaking bread" on the first day or any other day. They mention "breaking bread" (I Cor. 11:20-26), and they mention the contribution on the first day of the week (I Cor. 16:1-2) and they teach the necessity of assembly (Heb. 10:25), but they fail to mention breaking bread on the first day of the week or its necessity. There is just one place where we learn when the New Testament church broke bread and that is Acts 20:7. It stands alone as the only passage in the New Testament that teaches us when to break bread or how often. It teaches us "when" by the example specifically set forth — "The first day of the week to break bread" was the significance of the assembly of the disciples at Troas. It teaches the "frequency" of their doing so by necessary inference — the clear and unmistakable import of the language implies necessarily that it was a weekly practice — as often as the first day of the week came. This easily can be seen from a comparison with the Sabbath law and its observance — "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy" — how often? As often as it came and that was every week. That is what the law said and meant and that is what the language of Acts 20:7 says and means. Brother Thomas evidences that he does not know enough about how to apply Bible teaching to instruct anyone by the use of this passage, if he did the best he knew.

But our point is that if he is right when he says that we must go to other passages to know if an example is binding (as he does say about Acts 20:7), then what does he mean when he tries to discount the rule of harmony by saying "but this truism applies to commands and necessary inferences as well as to examples and so does not really help our problem". (Page 83 — Para. 1) How small a circle can a man get himself into anyway? If other passages must be relied upon to determine when an example is binding, then Brother Thomas actually appeals to the "Rule of Harmony" himself in "interpreting examples" in spite of sneering at us for using the rule and appealing to it! Verily, the "legs of the lame are unequal". We categorically deny that "interpreting" (understanding) examples is any different problem from understanding anything else the Bible teaches.

The Rule Of Universal Application

This is the third rule in our lesson on Examples in "Walking By Faith". Again Brother Thomas does not deal with our application of this principle of interpretation to the present day problems of cooperation. He sneers at it again as unworthy of any consideration. I suppose the main thing wrong with it is that our brother did not think of it or word it at least. He says this about it: "This rule is similar to the hypothesis of unity, in that it can serve only to veto certain examples". Well what is wrong with a rule that will veto an example as not binding when it is not binding, Brother Thomas? If it would have vetoed those examples that you so much want to get rid of in New Testament practice by the early church, you would have praised it. The trouble with it is that it will not work for you but against you, that is the reason you must make light of it when every scholar who ever wrote on the subject of "interpreting the scriptures" with which we are acquainted, has recognized and emphasized it. But here is another statement on the same Page.

"When these so-called 'rules' for determining `whether an example binds or not' are offered to us, and we see that they are not limited to examples, but equally affect commands and necessary inferences; and also that they would affect only a rare or occasional example and only in a negative way, we realize that whoever has suggested them has not really solved the problem of "when are examples binding". This type of `rule' (No. 2 and No. 3) says nothing whatever that is constructive or positive toward solving the problem". (Page 89 — Para. 1)

In spite of the fact that he admits that this "so-called rule" is a rule of some assistance in understanding the commands and necessary inferences, and occasionally an example, yet he asserts, that it says nothing constructive whatever toward solving the problem. Now, it seems that if it helps just the "wee bit" that he admits in solving the "problem of understanding" even an "occasional example" he could have been a little less severe in rejecting it and given it a little more credit anyway. These "trained thinkers" can give nothing credit unless they think of it first. He has no reticence in claiming that his "so-called hypotheses" are the "Standard" for all time to come and will solve every problem. Such is his fairness and his humility.

We stated this rule of Universal Application in this manner.

"Everything taught in the gospel of Christ is within the realm of possibility in practice for all people in all parts of the world and in every age. The scope of the gospel is world wide both in its provisions and in its requirements".

Then concerning the application of this rule to the problems at hand we had this to say.

"3. The autonomy and independence of congregations as taught in the Lord's plan for His church means that in every locality where Christians are made throughout the world, the work of the Lord's church can be carried out without any necessary connection with any other part of the people of God in any other part of the world." "Walking By Faith" — page 25.

This means simply that the local church is perfect and complete in its own form and function without any federation, amalgamation, or relation with any other local church on earth. It can perform its duty and please God in the execution of its mission if no other like it existed on earth. Of course, it would be its obligation to preach the gospel and plant the kingdom of God everywhere that its resources and opportunities allowed it to do so. Then if it learned of other saints in need in a locality where the church was not able to supply that need, it would be under obligation to "remember the poor" by sending them assistance as it had opportunity and ability to do so. It takes no more than a local church to do what God has designed that the church should do.

The Law Of Materiality

Our next rule, The Law of Materiality, was stated in this fashion.'

"Whether a thing is relevant, material, essential to the teaching or practice of Gods will is a most important consideration. Incidental matters are never relevant, material, or competent in determining the will of God. Incidental circumstances need to be separated from divine law in anything taught in God's word."

In applying that principle we gave the following illustrations of its application to familiar matters.

"1. Whether the people on the day of Pentecost were baptized in a natural stream or an artificial pool or reservoir of water in the city of Jerusalem is entirely incidental. The design, action, and results accomplished were exactly the same in any event.

2. Whether the gospel is preached in a temple of worship, by the riverside, or in the jail house, is a matter that is neither relevant or material to the conversion of the sinner. The truth preached, believed, and obeyed constituted conversion under any circumstances.

3. Whether Christians assemble under the branches of a tree, in a rented hall, in a private home, or in a building owned by them is a matter of indifference completely. The assembly of the saints in worship in spirit and truth is the essential whether in Jerusalem or Bagdad. John 4:21-24. Whether the Lord's supper is observed in an upper room, on the third story or in a house with but one story is entirely immaterial. Matt. 18:20.

4: Whether in the Lord's supper the elements are the unleavened loaf and the fruit of the vine or ice cream and cake is a very material matter. The emblems of His body and blood on the Lord's table were determined by Him and are the constituent elements of the supper he ordained. Anything else could not possibly constitute that supper."

Then we proceeded to show the application of the same principle of interpretation to the problems at hand in this manner.

"5. Whether a congregation has elders or not is material for unless in due time elders are developed and appointed, God's order has not been respected and followed. Acts 14:23.

6. Whether elders exercise jurisdiction over the congregation in which they have been made elders or in some organization other than that congregation and whether they are elders over that congregation only or many congregations is a very material question as to whether they are exercising scriptural authority in the function of their office. I Peter 5:2. It simply determines whether they are elders or something else and whether they are exercising proper authority or are usurping authority.

7: Whether congregations maintain an equal relationship to any work in which two or more churches cooperate is very material in determining whether or not they respect the divine order of the autonomy, independence, and equality of New Testament congregations: Whenever two or more congregations combine their funds and centralize the control over "their" work in one congregation and under one eldership, they have violated a very material and essential principle of New Testament Church identity — its government." "Walking By Faith — page 25-26"

Yet Brother Thomas wrote in his book:

"These BRETHREN have not even considered the possibility of dealing with examples grouped as optional things" — (Page 77 — Para. 2) That, my friends, is how honestly and fairly he dealt with the material in "Walking By Faith" and with the issues before the brotherhood today. We are ashamed of him for his profession of piety and "brotherliness" when being so manifestly unfair. We do not wonder that he did not tell his readers the name of the book or the author to which he was referring.

The Law Of Competence

This very common rule of interpretation and evidence was stated in this fashion:

"In studying any precept or example from New Testament scriptures it is important to determine whether or not the evidence obtainable from the divine record is actually competent to support the claim that is made for it. Practices which we are anxious to justify are too often presumed when the evidence of their actual existence is non-existent."

The application of this rule or requirement for evidence to be competent we offered the following:

"1: The presumption that the Jerusalem elders took charge of the contribution sent from Antioch for the "brethren which dwelt in Judea" and distributed that benevolence among the "churches of Judea" is entirely unsupported. In the example of Acts 11:27-30 Jerusalem and the Jerusalem elders are not mentioned. We are entitled to presume that the "churches in Judea" followed the divine order of "elders in every church". Acts 14:23: In that case the "elders" to whom Paul and Barnabas delivered the contribution were the elders among the "brethren in Judea". Unless it could be established that only the Jerusalem church had elders, which is entirely without support, then we must conclude that the "elders" of various churches in Judea which were in need are the ones referred to in the example.

2. The idea that any New Testament congregation ever made a contribution to any work to be done "through" another church is pure fiction. There is no example or hint of such a practice in the New Testament. There is no "pooling of funds" among New Testament churches. In the contribution sent to the Jerusalem saints each church selected its own messenger to carry the funds to Jerusalem and thus retained control, through their agent, over the funds until they came to rest in Jerusalem where the need existed and the work was to be done. I Cor. 16:1-4; II Cor. 8:16-24. Philippi sent directly to Paul by her own messenger — Epaphroditus. Phil. 4:15-18. This is the pattern.

3. There is no testimony of any kind upon which to base the presumption that New Testament churches ever undertook to do their work through any organization other than the "congregation" under its own elders." "Walking By Faith" — Page 26-27.

This is how fairly and fully we tried to deal with these principles or rules which our brother prefers to call "hypotheses" and the detailed way in which we tested their application to the examples of the New Testament record. Yet the learned professor would have you believe that no one but him has given any thought to testing and trying New Testament examples as to their applicability and binding force upon us today. He charges over and over again in his book that "lists of these hypotheses have been given, often with dogmatic claims about their authority and finality." We will leave it to those who have read both books and the writing that has been done to decide who it is that has been "dogmatic" in their claims for authority and finality. Our brother is a shining example of that.

Then another untrue and false charge in this same connection is this: "the scientific method was, however, used somewhat loosely in their formulation, and they were either not checked with all the possible facts or available data, or were not fully tested after their formulation, or both". (page 76.) Now what Brother Thomas calls "scientific" and "testing", we may not have done. But these principles of interpretation did not originate with us. They have been tried and tested by the scholars in this field back through the generations and are to be found in some of the most scholarly works ever written on this subject. Too bad that our brother at Abilene is so far ahead of everything that has ever been done in this field. His humility and meekness is outstanding.

We will compare and test the accuracy of these rules against anything he has evolved whenever he wants to undertake it.

The Law Of Limited Application

This rule is sometimes called the law of Limited Extension or Application. We state it in this fashion.

"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 to be applied must be the same fact situation. There must be a case in point."

We gave the following examples of this rule and its application.

"1. Much of the teaching in I Corinthians 14 cannot be generally applied for the reason that Paul was dealing with a fact situation that cannot be reproduced today, viz., the proper use of spiritual gifts. The principle to be learned for general application is stated "Let all things be done unto edifying" and "Let all things be done decently and in order".

2. Many of the things written by Paul concerning the marriage relationship in I Corinthians 7 were written "in view of the present distress" and therefore are limited in their application and would be misused if generally applied to all circumstances and situations.

3. The community of property practiced in the Jerusalem church was not intended for general emulation but was practiced only under special circumstances and in a particular situation. Acts 2:45; 4:32.

4. In New Testament scriptures one church never contributed to another church unless that church was in need. They did contribute to churches in need. (Churches of Macedonia, Achaia, Galatia to Jerusalem.) A contribution by one church to another church in need does not justify one church promoting another church out of its money to do a good work. That is not a case in point because the fact situation is not the same". "Walking By Faith — page 27-28".

Brother Thomas swept this aside as unworthy of any consideration and then turned right around and fashioned in his own words a "Pattern Principle for Examples" for which he made boastful claims of its being the solution for all our problems concerning "binding examples" and when he got this laborious effort all finished he had a combination of the law of limited extension or application and the law of relevance or materiality. He announces with a great deal of gusto:

"What we now wind up with as we conclude Part II on the solution of our problem is a major premise produced by our inductive reasoning thus far, and which is the finally formulated hypotheses derived from actual data and facts, gathered from the New Testament itself and tested with many illustrations". (Page 91 — Para. 2)

Now that sounds like the solution to every problem doesn't it? What more could be claimed by even a great "inductive and scientific" reasoner? But what did it amount to?

"When an example was binding upon the people of the New Testament day, it is binding upon us now; and when it was optional action for them, it is optional action for us"!

Now what does that solve? Exactly nothing so far as determining when an example was required specific action or attitude of its characters. What we need is to determine when the action was required or binding action then and now! Brother Thomas' great "Pattern Principle for Examples" is, to use his words, "nothing but a truism" — a "group of words without a point" and "says nothing whatever that is constructive or positive toward solving the problem". Brother Thomas, you will have to wind your "scientific tinker" up again and evolve something else. You didn't do the job!

(More to Follow)