Bible writers are not mystery writers, seeking to withhold the “answer” from the reader until the final page, nor seeking by Delphic utterance to give many conflicting answers in one.
Even when it is used to express divine truth, the language of the Bible is the language of men, and was meant to be understood.
God is able to communicate to man. His words then, CAN be understood by sensible men who want to correctly understand them.
Meanings men read INTO the Bible rather than read FROM the Bible are not Bible words at all. We need to avoid saying, “God says” when HE really did not say.
The Hermeneutical Question
A VERY GOOD ARTICLE appeared in the CHRISTIAN STANDARD for 10/13/96 on this subject.
LARRY CHOUINARD of Kentucky writes on, “The Hermeneutical Question,” and says, “Fundamental to a movement that purports to take the Bible seriously is a PROPER HERMENEUTIC that permits Scripture to speak within the parameters of its original intent.”
Having proved that he knows the origins of this particular (Stone-Campbell) reformation, and that he can think clearly, he proceeds, “To be content with anything short of the meaning of the text reflects an unwillingness to allow Scripture [that is, God speaking through His written Word] to formulate your theological conclusions and to chart your course in life.”
Proper respect for God means that we will let Him shape our doctrine and direct our lives, of course. Then the article continues,
Listening to the text, rather than a selective reading designed to confirm previously-held views, means hearing it through contextually on the issues it raises.
I hope you’ll get a copy and read the article! Meanwhile, I’ll share a little more with you of what LARRY CHOUINARD comments about THE HERMENEUTICAL QUESTION. He says, “Many of the problems presently confronting the church from within trace back to basic hermeneutical differences.”
That is, we look at the Bible differently. We find what we looked for, then conclude that everyone else should find in the Bible exactly the same answers we found there. Do not most of us think that our particular conclusions are solidly based on scriptural teaching and truth? He says, “Whatever the position, we all feel the need of establishing a biblical basis for it to justify our thinking that way.” He testifies that in reading many articles in many Christian journals, he has yet to note one where the author admitted that his view had little biblical authority.
Although we differ, each of us seeks to build our doctrine on what the Bible says! “It appears to me,” says Larry Chouinard, “that the major differences among Restoration brethren are not centered in the question of authority [Each of us thinks our position is the valid scriptural teaching] but rather in exegetical methodology.”
We see many teachers and preachers, both speakers and writers, misusing the Bible in order to teach what they prefer to believe and practice. Larry notes, “I find on many occasions I am sympathetic with the conclusions of a given author, but I question the procedure by which he has arrived at those conclusions. Faulty exegetical and contextual considerations do not provide a proper foundation upon which to build theological conclusions....
“While all of us bring to the text our own perceptions and concerns, we must be willing to allow the Bible text to challenge previously-held views... It is essential that we distinguish when we are leaving the concerns of the written Word in order to launch into our own opinions...”
Some who teach for God do not make clear to their audience that part of their teaching is their own ideas. Larry says, “If we take the authority of the Scripture seriously, the movement from Thus said the Lord to I think... must be made clear.” Larry’s opinion is that “It is the worst kind of manipulation to use the pulpit or the printed page, along with a few verses of proof-texts, to browbeat the church to align itself with mere obstinate opinion.”
Questions arise when texts are used as if they said more than was obviously intended by the author. Larry asks, “Did Paul really have in mind the completed canon of the New Testament when he wrote 1 Corinthians 13:8-10? Does 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 demand that all women in contemporary worship services be silent? Do you really think that the author of Hebrews 10:25 had in mind Sunday and Wednesday evenings when he wrote about 'not forsaking the assembly of ourselves together'? Is Paul’s point in Ephesians 5:19 to enjoin only a cappella singing?...
“Isolating a text from its context in order to win an argument does not reflect responsible exegetical technique. In fact, reading our twentieth-century concerns into passages of first-century Scripture often is at the expense of understanding the real concerns of the author.”
Larry Chouinard suggests that we may not do justice to Matthew when we attempt to explain his Gospel by the writings of Paul [or vice versa]. He points out, “No one church of the first century possessed all 27 books of the N.T. Their perspective on Christianity was derived from the documents they possessed along with what oral instruction they may have received from the apostles or other inspired prophets of God.” As restorationists, we seek to be like those early Christians, yet it’s doubtful that they constructed doctrine as we do!
To rightly understand the documents of the N.T., Larry suggests that we need to “immerse ourselves in the historical and cultural setting of the first century.” I think he may not mean that ordinary Bible readers cannot hope to understand until they know all about the culture of Bible lands and people in those early days. He’s warning against us supposing that all their problems and interests closely parallel our own. He calls on all to dig deeply into the truth when we seek to guide others to God. He wants all Bible readers to be aware of differences between Bible times and our present culture.
“IT IS exegetically irresponsible and intellectually dishonest to address contemporary concerns biblically without first taking time to acquaint oneself with the cultural context and issues addressed by the biblical writers. Merely assuming the issues are always the same leads to disastrous exegetical conclusions.
“If we take Scripture seriously, we will refuse to be aligned with a position merely because it reflects majority thinking. Neither is it particularly helpful to be quick to categorize exegetical conclusions as either liberal or conservative. Usually these labels are nothing more than a highly subjective response to a position we deem to be slightly left or right of our own.
“I do not have to show that my exegetical conclusions square with the position of former Restoration preachers. Nor is it true that they must be acceptable to mainline thinking of today.”
INSTEAD, “what I must demonstrate is that I have considered all the biblical data on the issue, and have given priority to the authority of the text over any mere human opinion. Brotherhood pressure should not be the determining factor for adopting a doctrinal position. I dare not allow myself to be made to entertain a position which I believe in good conscience does not do justice to the biblical data...
“A sound exegetical procedure begins by asking good questions of the text. Even before we raise questions concerning the text’s practical application or its relevance to a contemporary issue, priority should be given to questions addressing a text’s contextual, cultural, historical, and grammatical setting.
“A willingness to be guided by the biblical data means that we attempt to hear (as best we can) the text in its original setting and that we then allow the Bible’s timeless truths and principles to speak afresh in our modern context.
“NOTE THAT, even when proceeding with the same exegetical methods, there is no guarantee that all readers will draw the same conclusions from their study. However, it is extremely helpful to interact with differing views without having one’s integrity or theological motives called into question.”
CHOUINARD rejoices that his salvation does not depend upon the precision of his theological thought or the cogency of his exegetical conclusions. Surely all can join in the rejoicing. God expects us to do our best, but salvation does not rest in our perfection. We do not, by our accomplishments, save ourselves. He appeals to his readers to be thoughtful and considerate of those whose conclusions are not identical with their own:
“If IN THE CHURCH we cannot engage in constructive dialogue and the exchange of ideas while maintaining civility and mutual respect, in what arena can such take place?” Obviously we need to develop godly characteristics which would cause us to be civil and respectful even to those we think are not correctly handling the Word of truth. We certainly should disagree with those who are wrong. Chouinard is calling for us to disagree in good and right ways rather than in ways which the Word condemns. He comments, “It seems that many are so caught up in the rush to judgment and condemnation of any view which differs from their own that real dialogue and honest engagement with the text are conveniently pushed aside. For some it is much easier to sound the brotherhood alarms by quickly labeling a view with the 'L' word than to objectively engage the exegetical issues involved.”
LARRY CHOUINARD IS A MEMBER OF THE FACULTY AT
KENTUCKY CHRISTIAN COLLEGE, GRAYSON, KENTUCKY.
Under this title, Gene A. Sonnenberg writes in the CHRISTIAN STANDARD for 9/1/96 to call Christians to a renewed desire for unity. He reminds that the Stone-Campbell movement was based on a three-pronged program of:
RESTORATION of New Testament Christianity,
UNITY of all Christians under one standard, and
EVANGELIZATION of the world in preparation for the
soon coming of the Lord Jesus.
He states that we then were not afraid to prioritize those emphasesin fact “restoration” was pursued to demonstrate the workable unity of the body (of Christ). That unity in turn enabled the body to give a credible and powerful witness to the world for “evangelism.”
“We know this all-too-familiar pattern as organizations devolvethe MAN, the MEN, the MOVEMENT, the MONUMENT, the MACHINE, and finally the MUSEUM!
“The Civil War and its aftermath took its toll on every tradition in the U.S. The infiltration of German idealism and liberalism caused another split in the 1920’s with almost every major U.S. denominational group. In other concerns, our dream for a united Christian world was lost....
“It’s misleading to identify cultural diversity as disunity in the church. Avery Dulles [in the Catholicity of the Church (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), pg.81] remarks, Some cultures are more INDIVIDUALISTIC, others more COLLECTIVIST, some more MYSTICAL, others more RATIONAL, some more TRADITIONAL, others more INNOVATIVE...In a multicultural church a variety of such expressions is to be encouraged, for UNITY IS NOT THE SAME AS UNIFORMITY.
“...The unwillingness or inability of Christians to focus on faith’s great common ground must be an embarrassment to the Lord of His church in the light of the ills which plague a divided and a lost humanity. Luke saw Pentecost as the end of the curse of Babela new beginning, a new kingdom in which the walls of partition were being broken down....Christ Himself is the unity of the church. The church is a people under one King who are indwelt by one God in one Spirit. There is but one bride, one betrothal, and one body. It is a great temptation to speak and act as if disunity were the real truth....
“There are those who define Christian mission primarily as the alleviating of social ills. To define mission otherwise is not to say that injustice, oppression, hunger and sexism should be tolerated....Social transformation is a secondary fruitit is the by-product of new human beings...
“It is generally recognized that competiveness and jealousy among Christians is at variance with the high priestly prayer of Jesus (John 17). It is sectarianism. It is sin...Christ Jesus Himself is the unity of His church.... We must resist the pull of our own traditions as well as that of the spirit of our age. Only what is binding by the Lord on the first-century church can truly be regarded as binding on the church for all centuries...
“Central to our oneness in Christ is our confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. All lesser confessions must be reexamined and reduced to one significant motiveto proclaim HIM to the world...”
-- Gene A. Sonnenberg is Dean of graduate studies/special programs at Pacific Christian College in Fullerton, California.
Some who read this know that there are free congregations which are not affiliated with any denomination. Independent congregations conduct their own business, own their own buildings, and hire their own staff. They choose for themselves how and where to spend and send money to do the Lord’s work in this world. I belong to a free congregation. We call ourselves a Christian Church. The congregation where I grew up had incorporated as a Church of Christ, but was known in the community as Hutsonville’s “Christian Church.”
Some of these independent congregations are recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau as forming a fellowship of “CHURCHES OF CHRIST/CHRISTIAN CHURCHES.” We are by no means the only undenominational churches in the world today. But we are some of them. Other Christians and other congregations are free to join us in being only Christians. Obviously, we are not the only Christians, but we very much want to be only Christians. We choose not to be Methodist Christians or Baptist Christians or other kinds of Christians except just good, faithful Christians.
Some of us choose to get together sometimes in conventions, conferences, and lectureships. Our purpose in meeting is just to hear good preaching. We conduct no business, pass no resolutions, and greatly enjoy being together as Christians.
Stone [who is not related to the Stone who with Alexander Campbell is honored often as being one of the founders of the “Stone-Campbell Movement”] reports that this Dallas gathering on July 1st and 2nd, 1996 was “one of the most representative groups from Christian churches/churches of Christ” assembled in his lifetime. He observes that, “Present were folk from all theological perspectives, from all geographical areas, and from churches of all sizes,” adding, “Parachurch workers and educators were there; preachers were there; elders, deacons, and other concerned members were also there. Men and women were there. It was a microcosm of the churches of Christ and Christian churches today.”
Stone remarks, “At most family reunions, we see some relatives we don’t know very well; so we did here. We find some with whom we are more comfortable than with others. There may even be some cousin [or brother, or sister, or whatever] who shows up and makes everyone else a little uncomfortable! But, nevertheless,” says Stone, “we are family. In this case, we are the family of GOD, and also share being part of the family of faith known as THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT.”
Sam Stone thinks that the plea for unity based on love for God and His Word is needed more today than it has ever been. He says it is consistently welcomed and appreciated wherever it is winsomely presented. He observes, “Wherever the principles enunciated by Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell are being taught and lived out in love, New Testament churches are thriving. This is true regardless of their size, style, or location.” Additional remarks by Sam Stone follow Lynn Gardner’s comments about the meeting.
The conference, Lynn reports, was intended to provide a forum open to all segments of the Christian churches and churches of Christ, and to highlight the principles of the Restoration Plea, which were stated in the earlier article, JESUS BRINGS US TOGETHER. Major messages, he says, were presented on key Restoration principles, with BEN MEROLD speaking on the topic That the World May Believe. Ben preaches for a Christian Church in Missouri (near St Charles). He emphasized our need for unity in faith, purpose, and love, reminding us that a divided church keeps the world from believing in the One God and One Lord who called ONE BODY into being.
Monday evening, at a banquet, MARSHALL LEGGETT, of Kentucky, gave a dramatic presentation of the life and thought of THOMAS CAMPBELL, who was early active in our Movement. Marshall emphasized that, like Campbell, we “speak where the Scriptures speak” and model the church as it was given to the apostles, and by them to the world and to us. BOB RUSSELL, also a Kentucky preacher, affirmed, “WE NEED ONE ANOTHER” for accountability and for effectiveness in presenting the plea of unity in Christ. On the theme IN ESSENTIALS, UNITY George Faull said, “Essentials are things revealed (in the Bible), and opinions are things where God has not spoken.”
DAVID GRUBBS, in NOT THE ONLY CHRISTIANS discussed what makes one a Christian. He commended former professor GEORGE MARK ELLIOTT’s definition, “One who believes Jesus is the Christ, repents of sins, confesses faith in Christ, is immersed, and continues as a Christian.” Using the illustration of the muscles that extend the arm, he said differences are essential to a living organism.
On HOW I PRESENT THE RESTORATION PRINCIPLES, Jeff Metzger said that he presented Restoration principles by living the truth, crossing lines, and taking risks. His practice of Restoration principles has led him to work outside Restoration circles, as anyone seeking to be salt and a witness must.
ZIDEN NUTT, of Joplin, told how a Bible-only position has been a basis of unity for 39 church groups in developing religious programming for satellite broadcasting. Lynn points out that the Bible-only principle is most practical for cooperative efforts. It offends no one, and has God (author of the Bible) as the point of reference.
In the non-religious environment in the Northwest, reported PHIL LING, they do not deal so much with denominationalism as with the irreligious and with false religions. They work to establish basic Christian faith. It was affirmed by CHARLES COOK that Restoration principles are as valid and appealing as ever. He explained that liberals years ago rejected Restoration as an invalid concept [many “liberals” in Christian Churches moved out to form the Disciples of Christ denomination], and some recently have rejected it as only shaped by our culture.
However, Lynn reports, Charles Cook said that the Restoration principles are transcultural. A rootless church in a rootless culture results in First Chameleon Church of Anywhere. He suggested we should lift up the truths that are the essence of Christianity rather than focus on our differences, and advised those present to avoid (if possible) (re)fighting the old battles, while remembering that we do share common history. These speakers were all emphasizing our need for unity, of course.
Several persons gave updates on how Restoration principles were being implemented in local churches they knew about or participated in. These thrilling testimonies included reports on a dynamic restart of a church using a contemporary style, a Baptist church (after biblical study) voting to be Christians only, a growing church in the Northeast, and one in the Southwest. Those present heard of denominationalists coming to biblical conclusions on baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and a church in Iowa in a Danish Lutheran community baptizing adults into Christ.
I comment concerning the Baptist church choosing to use only the name of Christ: “Baptist Church” is not a Bible name. If the church is identified by its members, it might be called Christians’ church or church of the saints. If identified by its ownership, it’s the church of God, Christ’s church, Christian church, church of Christ, or church of the Lord. Note that our English word, church, is not the best translation of the Greek, ekklesia. A better word in each case would be assembly. And CHRIST’S ASSEMBLY is, in His Word, most often just identified as to location rather than with a proper-noun name, as “the church at WHEREVER.” But John the Baptist was not part of the church, and of course it’s not appropriate to name the church after one of its practices. Bible names honor God. Human names honor someone other than God. We honor God by using Bible names for Bible things such as His church.
At the conference, the open mike, where anyone present was invited to speak for two minutes or less, gave many the chance to share with others who listened what the speaker thought important. This, Lynn says, provided the greatest diversity of opinions expressed during the conference.
CONCERNS EXPRESSED included: liberalism in colleges, pros and cons about Promise Keepers, use of “denominational” singing groups in church services, isolation from our religious neighbors, and compromise with our religious neighbors, some who have a judgmental, critical spirit, our need to give more attention to Bible study in Bible school classes, teaching of theistic evolution, and acceptance of “faith-only” doctrine in certain songs, sermons, and situations.
I hasten to explain that James (a New Testament writer, yes) was among the first to point out that faith without works is dead. His point is that dead faith is the result when living faith is not joined by appropriate action. Many preachers today think all it takes to be saved is to think that Jesus is Lord. Sometimes they also want you to say you believe, or sign a card, or touch some object. But “faith-only” doctrine, since it sees no link between Christian baptism and salvation, has to find that Peter was misunderstood or wrong on Pentecost when he LINKED baptism and salvation.
This faith-only doctrinal system cannot see how Paul could have been teaching truth when he, in Romans 6, seems to be saying that we are baptized INTO Christ (we are “buried” with Him into death in baptismal waters), so that we then can be “raised to walk in new life.” Correctly seeing that our being born again is not by human works, they confuse between obeying God’s Word (by repenting and being baptized) and thinking up human ways of trying to earn salvation by human works. Baptism is not commanded by men but by God. It’s part of the new birth which initiates us into eternal life with Christ as our Lord.
Preaching the gospel (the good news from God) includes telling sinners about the baptism Jesus taught. Many who think they preach the true Christian gospel nowadays omit the teaching of baptism as a part of the new birth. They promise sinners salvation based on faith alone. This sounds like bad news (gospel good news leads sinners into a new birth of WATER AND SPIRIT) to those who read in the Bible about SINNERS being baptized INTO CHRIST.
Open-mike speakers expressed appreciation for freedom in Christ, for the emphasis on the Lordship of Christ by some who are not part of our Restoration, for the grace we have individually received in Christ, and for a good book one brother spoke of on the Restoration Plea.
The group present several times joined together in worship and prayer. Attenders were seated around tables. Opportunities were provided for discussion of issues with those sharing the table. In this table talk, Lynn says some very profitable interchanges occurred. ALAN AHLGRIM, as the meeting concluded, gave a summary of the meeting.
SAM STONE said the goal of the conference was to come together to talk to each other and with each other about issues relating to acceptance and dissemination of Restoration principles. He concluded, While we won’t agree on everything, we can be united on essentials. We can accept and trust each other, and together we can present the ideal of New Testament Christianity to a hurting world.
Not everyone drew the same conclusions from what was spoken publicly at this conference. The reporter to another of our Cincinnati journals gave a very unflattering synopsis of what he heard there. Most people, though, found that although some things they heard discouraged them, many things (about our present and future) encouraged them.
LYNN GARDNER observes, after reflection: No one questioned the validity of the Restoration plea. That is, we agreed that we should be aiming at living like early Christians were called to live, in faithful obedience to Jesus. And the strong attendance at this conference indicated a lively interest in Restoration principles. LISTENING, Lynn says, is the first step in understanding one another. Sometimes our emotions keep us from correctly hearing what another person said.
The meeting was an eye-opener to some who had not realized the diversity that is represented in our family of churches. A serious misunderstanding that surfaced was that some assumed that if one cooperated with other evangelicals (non-Restorationists) that the one cooperating had adopted the faith-only theology of salvation. Fellowship does NOT mean endorsement, says Lynn. He added, ... We need a humble, teachable spirit willing to learn from anyone, even if we know we don’t already agree on some things. We need more biblical study and practice in relating truth and the authority of God’s Word with grace and love. Truth and love are not opposites! Knowing God in truth is essential to understanding His love.
... Different assumptions, approaches, and methods of understanding the meaning of Scripture lead to some of our important differences. We need to give our best thinking to proper interpretation of the Bible. (And now you may see why I wanted to share this article with you in a study about Hermeneutics!) Knee-jerk reactions, and broad, sweeping generalizations based on a few remarks do not represent mature thinking. Differences are to be expected. Love must prevail. We must love ALL our brothers and sisters in Christ.
TOGETHER let’s fight the evil one, and TOGETHER let’s encourage and strengthen all our fellow believers, is Lynn’s ringing exhortation in closing his report.
PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE BIBLE
(AND OF THE PRESENT SITUATION) CALLS US
TO UNITY AND FAITHFULNESS
“We seem to have our deepest differences over the way we relate to other believers. Shall we call them Christians? How shall we treat them, both in daily interaction and when we’re together in Christian gatherings? How shall we treat our brothers and sisters (our close friends and associates) who treat *other Christians* differently from the way we do?
“We must frankly talk to one another and listen to one another even when we disagree! We dare not question motives, assign guilt by association, nor assume the prerogative of God and become judges of one another.”
Sam says he intends to continue to share as widely as possible the vision that our Restoration forefathers saw of unity in Christ, and to continue to practice Christianity as early Christians were encouraged to live it. He wants to speak the truth in love, and is encouraging us all to do so. I’m with him! Many good things can happen if we all use PROPER methods of Bible Understanding, which will bring us together in Christ.
The workable way to unity in Christ is not a union of denominations but rather a giving up of denominational (sectarian, party) loyalties in favor of being only CHRISTIANS. It is important to realize that we will each be individuals even while we work and worship and serve together. We’ll not see everything alike, but we do want to see alike on every matter where God has spoken, and not only see alike but also obey alike.
In matters of faith, we will all obey the same Lord. In matters of opinion, we’ll be loyal to one another and to Jesus even while we disagree and act differently. That’s our proper duty!
THE “NEW TESTAMENT” PATTERN -- Sam Stone speaks of a “New Testament pattern” by which congregational life is to be shaped. To some, this means the Sunday services are to be conducted a particular way and only that way. Paul’s writing to the Corinthians would dispute such a “pattern” theology. They were to be orderly in their meetings, but their services were participatory and informal indeed as he describes it. Rigidity doesn’t properly describe their assemblies!
A New Testament pattern for CHURCH GOVERNMENT includes no authoritative organization above the congregational level. The early church is seen to have had evangelists (missionaries), pastors (elders), and teachers as continuing workers, with particular men also being set aside to do physical work to free the leader-teachers from those tasks. All members were priests of God, so they had no clergy with special responsibilities and privileges. They had apostles, but none qualify for that office today. They had prophets, but now we have the prophetic book, and may not need inspired prophets. If we seek to be like the early church, WHY DO WE HAVE A CLERGY? See the later article numbered #77.
DID THE EARLY CHURCH HAVE EDITORS AND JOURNALS? SHOULD WE? -- The early church, so far as the Bible reveals their activities, had no printing presses, and therefore had no publishing houses, and therefore had no journals such as we enjoy. As a consequence, they had no editors. Some, tongue in cheek, would say this means we also would be better off without them.
I see some publications I think we would be better off withoutones which promote partisanship and seek division from others wrongly judged unworthy and unfaithful. But there are also outstandingly good ones, which once included magazines called WINESKINS and the monthly ENSIGN, and does include the weekly journal called THE CHRISTIAN STANDARD. It’s my opinion that every Christian should be reading these periodicals as often as they’re published. Why? Because they tell of good news about other Christians, which should encourage us all, and because they carry articles which can help us think about good and wholesome things.
GOOD THINGS, AND
ALSO SOME BAD THINGS?
Writing in the CHRISTIAN STANDARD for 10/27/96, Boatman asks and answers the question, “Why Did He Print That?” His article concerns the function of a brotherhood journal, or what good can a periodical do when we already have the Bible?
Circumstances which caused Boatman to write the article were that the Mailbox column in the Christian Standard saw an exchange that startled one of Charles’ friends. They together discussed the exchange, and the question came up, “If the editor disagreed with the article about which the first letter commented, why did he print the article? If he disagreed with the acerbic response he printed, why did he share that response with his readers? If he agreed with the first response, why did he later print the second reply which expressed an opposing viewpoint?” All will agree that’s a lot of question!
And that’s what caused Boatman to provide an answer for us to consider so we can agree or disagree with it. He says, “We should see it as a good sign that the heirs of the Restoration Movement are not in total agreement on all the issues which concern us. The disagreement indicates some of us may be thinking, and that’s surely a good thing!”
THE DENOMINATIONAL HERITAGE of a brotherhood journal will to some extent determine its function, says Boatman. He says, “Where a clerical hierarchy exerts authoritarian control over the faith of the membership there can be no freedom to question. Traditional interpretations of Scripture are not to be challenged, because those traditions have the imprimatur of *The Fathers.*
“For such a brotherhood, the official journal’s function is obviously to indoctrinate the faithful. Nothing can be allowed to taint its pages which might be thought by some to be *FALSE DOCTRINE.* This policy would be followed, of course, in the name of *CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH ONCE FOR ALL DELIVERED TO THE SAINTS.* Given that approach to Christianity, the editorial policy of presenting only the party position would be perfectly legitimate.”
In a brotherhood like the undenominational Christians written of in this study, however, the authoritarian approach is not suitable. In fact, says Boatman, there can be no official BROTHERHOOD journal among us, and the Christian Standard makes no such claim. I claim for it the name of being the oldest undenominational champion I know of among us. Others, with every good intention perhaps, are often sectarian. The Christian Standard seldom is. IT’S MY CONVICTION that every Christian would be profited by reading the differing views regularly expressed in the Christian Standard.
“The very concept of a journal which can speak authoritatively for a brotherhood of free Christians is foreign to the New Testament ideal. Speak TO such a brotherhood, yes, but not FOR it!,” says Boatman. He notes that any editor, in order to decide whether particular articles or letters should be published, must first decide for whom the journal is editedwho the hoped-for readers will be.
THE CHRISTIAN STANDARD has a constituency. It’s many of the same people I hope will read this study with interest, those who love Jesus and seek to serve Him pleasingly, and who to the very best of their ability want to be undenominational while they’re doing the serving. In general, the readership of the Christian Standard, for whose sake it’s edited, are in some way associated with congregations known as CHURCHES OF CHRIST/CHRISTIAN CHURCHES. That journal admits that it seeks to be undenominational while being faithful in Christian service.
Boatman suggests that the target readership of the Christian Standard “is the whole brotherhood of Christians who are heirs to the nineteenth-century movement to restore New Testament Christianity.” He states, “This will include a vast number of people who will not care at all to read the magazine!”
There are many members of congregations once in the movement who no longer share the vision of its early champions, who no longer believe that the way to attain unity in Christ is by faithfully following the Bible while loving and respecting other Christians who see matters of opinion differently than most of us do. Yes, there are some who have no interest in things they could read about in the Christian Standard.
IT WILL ALSO INCLUDE many groups of people who are committed to Restoration principles but who disagree strongly on methods, traditions, and principles of interpretation, says Boatman. It’s these groups we hope will be interested in considering Seth Wilson’s RULES FOR RIGHT READING. We believe those who follow these rules will serve God well and will seek unity in Christ.
“In short, it will include all who differ on the two or three dozen issues over which we have divided in the past century and a half, and perhaps some other issues we haven’t gotten around to fighting about yet. The one thing all will have in common will be their commitment to the Bible as the special revelation from God, and to bringing today’s churches as close as possible to the divine ideal set forth in the Bible.”
SHOULD AN EDITOR PRINT SOMETHING
WITH WHICH HE DISAGREES?
BOATMAN CONTINUES, “As Carl Ketcherside has put it, Tolerance is not endorsing what is wrong so much as enduring one who thinks what’s wrong is really all right. This Restoration Movement had its roots among people who did not automatically accept what had always been taught by their clergy. We, in early days, were led by men who challenged our thinking by lively discussions, both in person and in print.
“Out of this background came a movement which captivated the imagination of freedom-loving people who also were not afraid to think for themselves. While men grappled with issues in thoughtful dialog, it remained a restoration MOVEMENT. Wherever men have quit thinking for themselves and have begun parroting their new traditions, it has become a Restoration POSITION, which is not at all the same. We should tolerate those who are UNABLE to think, and there are some who have this handicap. The one who is UNWILLING to think is a bigot and should be admonished. The one who DOES NOT BOTHER to think is a slave. We should pity the slave and work to help him become again free.
“An undenominational brotherhood journal can and ought to be an agent for dealing with all three of these conditions,” says Boatman. He concludes, “We do not yet possess all the truth, but there is hope of finding it through thoughtful argument (discussion). Unless we are not children of Him who is the truth, there is no need to fear the truth. The question is, WHAT DO YOU THINK?”
Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (the apostle Paul 2 Timothy 2:14,15 NIV).
We need to read the Bible more, and then put its clear (proper) teachings into practice in our lives. This will result in our having LOVE, JOY, AND PEACE in our hearts. Reading the Bible is also apt to give us a strong desire to be in unity here on earth with all others who also love Jesus. This is “proper” Bible interpretation!
“Unity can be realized only in the general truths of the Christian faithnot in particulars of doctrine,” says LEROY GARRETT, a brother from Denton, Texas. We’ll all surely agree. He says, the fatal error of Protestantism is particularism.
He writes as one who loves Jesus and unity in Him. He observes that each party (sect) began with an emphasis on some particular(s) which distinguished that party from all others. The party was formed when adherents to that particular demanded that all others in fellowship with them must also accept and emphasize it as the sect leaders did.
It remains true today of the sectarian spiritunless you accept our set of particulars, you are not one of us! We see it in every party today no less than in previous generations. The fallacy in particularism is not in deeming particular doctrines important. No doubt they are important. But are they crucial, essential to our practice of Christian faith? Likely not.
The general truths listed by Paul in Ephesians 4 are essential. We can’t be in Christ without accepting them. Many other truths are desirable, but saints can be saints without an understanding of the lesser truths. We greatly need to distinguish between what is most important and what is within the realm of Christian growth.
Paul urges, “...live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spiritjust as you were called to one hope when you were calledone Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all...”Ephesians 4:1-7 NIV.
We might disagree, and even be wrong, about various doctrines and still be right about Christ. And it’s HE who saves! In Romans 14 Paul speaks about the eating of meats. In truth, eating of meat is not a moral matter. There’s no sin in eating meat. But Paul didn’t condemn those who had scruples against eating meat. They were wrong and he says nothing about their errorjust agrees that if they think it’s wrong, then for them it surely is wrong (Romans 14:13,14).
Joined to Christ, we are by Him joined to all others who are joined to Him. If we pull away because of our particularism, we lose fellowship not just with those others but also with Jesus! We can never unite on particulars! Particulars, however, in the form of theories, opinions, theology, and methods are to be allowed so long as they are not considered essentials. Only what GOD requires is essential.
-- In his Once More With Love No. 20 -- October 1996, Leroy Garrett points out, “Jesus is the object of our universal, catholic faith. We find our unity in being joined to him. Being *faithful* means being loyal to him according to our measure of light.” He uses numerous quotations from both Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone to prove that this is the gist of their call to unity. The reformation of which I am a part urges unity based not on conformity in detail, but in agreement on essential doctrines of the Bible. Because it causes us in the name of loyalty to Christ to bring about division which He abhors, particularism is a dreadful sin.
The unity of the primitive Christians was not probably an agreement of scholars and debaters. Their faith was based on a simple recitation of glad newsGod loves men and makes reconciliation possible through the death of His unique Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Early Christians had no New Testament scriptures, and many had no ready access to Old Testament scrolls, for only the wealthy could afford them. But God spoke to them through the temporary voices of apostles and prophets, and those who heard were as thoroughly saved as any man today can be who owns Bibles by the dozens.
Many in early days died for their faith. The faith they possessed did not come from a book, but from facts lovingly presented, often in story form. The gospel is in essence a simple story. God loves you. He makes a way for you to join Him in glory. You’re invited and welcome to join Him in eternal bliss. Our particulars may obscure the message rather than making it more clear as we intended. If we have time to invest, there’s surely no harm in making all kinds of decisions about doctrinal matters. But it’s to our advantage to recognize what is most important and make those crucial matters the heart of our teaching and practice.
If a person can go to glory without believing and practicing our particular(s) of doctrine, we surely have no need to make an issue of whether or not others agree with us about it! Leroy has it right, the heart of our divisions is particulars. Jesus wants us one, and we want everyone to agree with us on particulars. Dare we persist in denying that we were made one with many who don’t or can’t see things exactly as we do?
His announced topic is, “What’s a Preacher Supposed to Do?” And in his first sentence he exposes us to a word I understood fine after I looked it up in the dictionaryepiphany. Familiar perhaps to some of the readers of this study, it’s a stranger to many others. It means an awakening, such as the one Lazarus had when Jesus called him to come forth from the grave. Or as I had when I looked up the word’s meaning.
Bill says he had one also. He’d like us all to share in the awakening! He refers us to Acts 20:7-11: On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where they were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said, “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left (Acts 20:7-11, NIV).
BILL’S FIRST SENTENCE is, “Sometimes, nestled in the words of a familiar Bible passage an astonishing revelation is waiting for its epiphany. Consider that possibility with a passage like [this one quoted above]...
“As a preacher, I’ve always wondered how someone like Eutychus could fall so sound asleep under Paul’s preaching that he tumbled out the window and was picked up dead (verse 9). Was Paul that boring? Didn’t he know that people’s interest isn’t inexhaustible? Come on, Paul, you can’t (keep) on talking until midnight! And we complain about a 40-minute sermon. Well, take heart, weary pilgrim. We may have had the story wrong.”
And now Bill starts to EXEGETE, which is why I’m sharing his thought with you here where our subject is Proper Bible Understanding. “Acts 20:7 says Paul spoke (preached in the KJV). The word in the Greek is dialegomai, which looks and sounds like our word dialogue, and by some coincidence also means the same. This is not one of the Greek words normally rendered preach (euangelizo or kerusso, both of which are usually associated with the gospel, which was announced to those who had never heard it). The NIV is close to its original meaning (spoke rather than preached).... [from its uses in nearby passages] it sounds more like dialogue than monologue.
“The latter part of verse 7 says that Paul kept on talking. This is logos in Greek, the common word for speech, saying, or word. From the word dialegomai used earlier in the verse, we know what form his talking was taking. (Ray remarks: We would call it discussing rather than lecturing or orating, as in a sermon.)
“Verse 9 says Paul talked on and on. Now we’ve got you nailed, Paul! It must have been one of those sermons entitled, Forty-four ways to overcome temptation. But Luke uses dialegomai again to describe what put Eutychus to sleep. (Aren’t we glad to know that it wasn’t Paul’s droning preaching that did it! Paul and those who were dialoguing with him were not boring so much as Eutychus was bored [or tired, possibly], a condition not unfamiliar to the modern preacher and congregation.)
“What had been going on at Troas? Verse 11 says Paul had been talking until daylight, and this time Luke uses the word homileo to describe it. Now we’ve got our sermon. Snappy title, introductions, three points, and conclusion. But homileo means a communing together, conversing. When Luke used the same word in Luke 24:14,15, the context makes its meaning clear .... it’s obvious that its meaning in the New Testament was not monologing.
“Based on the words Luke used in this text, what did Paul do in the Troas assembly? He dialogued on Scripture (on the truths revealed by Jesus to mankind) with the disciples there. In the biblical sense, he didn’t preach, for these were all already believers. We would call him a discussion leader, or facilitator. There isn’t even a hint that he monologuedthat is, spoke to an audience that only listened. No three-point topical sermon. Sorry.
“What happens in our modern assemblies stands in stark contrast to Paul’s methodology in Troas, which we may assume was usual procedure for Paul and early Christians. This is confirmed by a look at the only other passage which seems to deal with how their meetings were conducted1 Corinthians 14, especially verses 26-40.”
In the rest of the Christian Standard article, Bill Pile points out clearly what he means that has us today not conforming to the “pattern” of the early church. They had no professional clergy. We have one. They had evangelists who carried the gospel to those who hadn’t already heard it thousands of times. We have professional persons whose duty it is to explain to lost persons in the audience in the church house how they can be saved, and to urge them to respond to an invitation.
In the interchange between the professional speaker and the audience, the preacher is also to condemn sin in the lives of those who are now saved, and bring such sinners to repentance. The speaker is also to teach the listeners how to live, which is by us called ministering the Word or equipping the saints. This spiritual exercise takes place especially on Sunday mornings from a pulpit (a non-Biblical word), in a church building (a non-Biblical location), with seating arranged in theater or lecture style. The people are there to listen. The preacher is there to talk (monologue). A choir and special singers also are invited to perform and entertain listeners. That’s not what was happening in Troas or in Corinth in the first century.
Bill suggests that one reason the early church multiplied and our churches don’t keep pace with the population growth is because of the traditions we’ve adopted which keep most of the congregation listening to a preacher talk when in early churches there was dialogue! Bill recommends participation. He is suggesting that we abandon this fad of making ourselves into an audience seeking to passively be entertained by professional performers. He’s suggesting that the lost sheep our evangelists should be seeking aren’t usually found in church buildings.
So why preach to them where they’re not. Evangelists are needed, and should be supported in taking the gospel to the lost. But why make the evangelist into a pastor? The Bible pattern is for dedicated older men among the congregation to serve as the pastors of the flock. It’s for no scriptural reason that we’ve abandoned the Bible pattern in favor of one that’s totally different.
Bill suggests, “From a pragmatic standpoint, we have learned that the traditional preaching style used in churches today is one of the least effective means of communication we have. In these days of sound bites, 30-second commercials, bumper-sticker theology, and instant-everything, maybe we ought to rethink our Sunday mornings and other times our preachers perform ...
“Because they are willing participants in the learning process, adults respond best to relational communication (dialogue, rather than monologue). Participating, we come out of the stands and into the arena. Or, as Bruce Larson puts it negatively, Man has a built-in resistance to accept what he has not helped to create. No wonder small-groups are becoming so popular!
“A little look at the history of American Protestantism will reveal that our Sunday assemblies are still based on the 19th-century revivalist modela model that attempted to bring evangelism and worship together in one service.” Perhaps we could improve on that. Of course we could improve on that. Do we want to do so? It’s been suggested earlier in this book that the way to best please God is by restoring ourselves to doing church His way.
Bill proposes (I wish if you are reading this about his article that you will get a copy of the article and read it) that our assemblies should again be made participatory, and that no preacher deliver a monologue or preside over our every get-together. Each church member should preach the gospel. It’s not from the Bible that we learned that we could put our dollars in place of our hearts and elbow grease. Doing God’s work isn’t sitting in a pew and observing others perform. It’s yourself speaking up to praise God and explain to seekers the Way of Life. It’s older saints helping younger saints see the way around obstacles to Christian living and growth. It’s sharing.
Bill says, “Let’s get our professional preachers and ministers out of the pulpit and into the community. The effectiveness of preaching can be multiplied by moving it from inside our comfortable sanctuaries’ out to where the sinners are...Paul’s preaching was usually not to already-converted persons. And he asks us to follow his example just as he followed the example of Jesus Christ.”
Instead of having a performance of the professionally perfect on Sundays, let’s restore ourselves to the dialogue method we see described by Luke in Acts 20 and by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14. There are NO scriptural examples of doing things the way we’ve recently been doing them!
Bill’s question is, “What’s a Preacher Supposed to Do?” His answer is that professional preachers are called to carry the gospel to the unsaved. If our practice is different from that norm, then we should take whatever steps are necessary to get ourselves back in tune with what the Bible shows is the right way of doing things.
“There are some things we won’t need,” says Bill, if we do things like early Christians did “like a pulpit, a monologue, or a gifted professional speaker (or singers). We’ve found that we don’t even need to own our own building.” They use small-group discussions where many can prepare and participate instead of making all but one of the group into an audience to just listen.
Who would be so naive, asks Bill, as to think that, after reading this material, preachers would rewrite their job descriptions and congregations would redesign their assemblies before next Sunday? He knows that won’t happen. But he nonetheless asks us to consider -- if we have believed that doing God’s business His way would bring His blessings on us, why not look at Acts 20:7-11 again and see how far we’ve strayed from apostolic precedent? Why not find our job descriptions in the Word of God instead of in the world of business? To do so would make for some interesting changes in our lives and in the lives of our congregations.
How’s that for reading rightly, and making proper use of what the Word of God says?
Evangelist and author BOYCE MOUTON, of Carthage (MO), comments, “The Greek word used here for prayer is the normal word for praying to God... The word for anger (wrath) refers to a long-standing resentment inclining to revenge. This is in contrast to a blazing display of anger which flares up and as quickly subsides.
“The disputing we should not do (note that in the KJV the word is given as doubting) really means a reasoning through. In Philippians 2:14 the word is translated as disputings and in Romans 14:1 as disputation.
“Here, Paul contrasts the praying every Christian should do with the controversy the Christians should not do.” Over ten years before writing this letter to Timothy, Boyce points out, Paul had warned the Ephesian church leaders (Acts 20:29,30 -- Luke called them elders) of impending trouble -- outsiders like grievous wolves who eagerly tear and rend apart a flock of sheep, Paul said, would enter the church family. Unless somehow prevented from doing so, in a grasping after personal prestige and power, they would influence many, even some of those very leaders to whom Paul spoke.
Now it was happening! So Paul writes to urge his friend Timothy to encourage Ephesian Christians to refuse to be influenced by these “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” He urged Timothy to “command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.” His advice wasn’t to ignore false teachers, but to confront and combat them.
Proper understanding and appropriate action in this day also is to confront and combat false teaching while loving and accepting all who seek to honor truth. Boyce reminds us that Paul continues, “These (false teachers) promote controversies rather than God’s work -- which is by faith. The goal of this command is love which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
“Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk.
“They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm...”
Boyce concludes, “Why not read Paul’s letters to Timothy and to Titus with careful attention to Paul’s strong desire to stop these people of God from arguing among themselves? What God tells us is surely worth deep study so we understand as best we can what the writers actually said...”
This is excellent advice from one whose life is devoted to irenic Kingdom-building for God! Should we not all learn to share Boyce Mouton’s devotion to God and his yearning for peace held in truth?
Keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (the apostle Paul -- 2 Timothy 2:14,15 NIV).