Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 28, 1967

The Rule Of Uniformity And The Messengers

Robert H. Farish, Lexington, Kentucky

How does the law of uniformity apply in the case of the "messengers"? In the New Testament examples of churches sending to other churches, messengers were uniformly employed; but is such exclusively binding on churches today or can the mail and other services be employed in harmony with the will of God? Does the fact that there is no variation in the way they sent make that mode of sending exclusive? On first thought we may be disposed to wave this aside as a thing to be settled by so-called "sanctified common sense." But second thought will suggest that such an attitude is arbitrary and that we are obligated to show why the rule of uniformly does not make this example exclusive.

The Rule Of Uniformity

The rule of uniformity as expressed in the special issue of the Gospel Guardian is: "Uniformity in essential details must be present in examples of the same kind of action." This characteristic of uniformity must be present but its presence does not necessarily make the action exclusive. It is an essential characteristic but not the sole characteristic necessary to make an example exclusive. The problem of determining when an example is exclusive is not to be solved by any one rule but rather by the application of all of the rules required by the scriptures. All the conditions necessary to an approved example must be present.

To illustrate: Faith is essential to salvation. (John 3:16.) Without faith a man cannot please God. (Heb. 11:6.) But faith alone does not save. (James 2:24.) Just so with reference to the condition of uniformity in examples. Uniformity is necessary to exclusiveness.

Without uniformity an example is not to be regarded as exclusive. But uniformity alone does not make an example exclusive.

Essentials And Incidentals

In the apostolic age funds were sent by messengers. (I Cor. 16:3; Phil. 2:25; Phil. 4:18.) Letters were also sent by messengers. (Col. 4:7, 8; Phil. 2:25; Eph. 6:21,22.) Members of the church were used by the churches and apostles as messengers to convey messages as well as funds. The messages and the funds were the essential things involved; not the means of conveyance utilized. The words of the messengers were either delivered oral, face to face, or hand written and funds were conveyed by "messengers." The failure to utilize printing presses, typewriters, telephone, telegraph postal service, etc., is to be explained by the fact that they did not exist then. The question as to whether the "messengers" are a matter of faith or just incidental is answered when we determine if the example is exclusive.

These problems are not new; they have cropped up in the past and been dealt with by former generations. Back in 1871 L. B. Wilkes wrote a series of articles on "Necessary Inference" which was published in the Apostolic Time. The first article was introductory, dealing with the general theme that the scriptures teach by express statement, approved example and necessary influence. The articles which followed in the series dealt more specifically with necessary inference. The paragraph on approved example is most timely in view of the current "pattern" controversy. Wilkes wrote,

"They doubtless did many things with the divine approbation which were right and were made necessary by the circumstance that surrounded them, which are not required of us. But all their conduct that grew out of the circumstance of their discipleship and that was not local and temporary in its nature, having the approbation of God, is evidently law to us. Keeping the Lord's day, and celebrating the Lord's death, in the supper every Lord's day are examples. God has, in these cases and ways, made us acquainted with his will. Hence, to neglect these duties, when they can be performed, is as much sin as though they were expressly commanded."

Discipleship was not the circumstance that required the "messengers." The means of communication of that day was the circumstances which required the messengers. The fact (circumstance) of being disciples of Christ requires helping the poor and preaching the gospel but does not require that we be limited to the means of communication and transportation of that day.

The "messengers" are thus judged to be incidental. The essential things involved are preaching the gospel and helping the poor. These essentials are to be accomplished by whatever means available which do not violate a requirement of faith.