With this edition of the Examiner we begin a column that we elect to call, "Answering The Mail," which, I suppose, is as good a name for a special column as any other. In it, we hope to answer some of the questions that are posed from time to time through the mail. Please do not judge us so audacious that we would undertake such a project, for we readily plead ignorance in many areas where inquiries may be advanced. However, we will attempt to give a sincere answer wherever possible that further study might be encouraged.
To begin, we decided to go back several months and pick up some good questions that came in from early issues of the Examiner.
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("Those Tantalizing Traditions" - Vol. 1, No. 5): "In the second paragraph you state, 'We erected our own laws of interpreting Scripture,..' Please study carefully Acts 15:7-11 (necessary inference), Acts 15:12 (apostolic example), and Acts 15:13-21 (express statement). All three 'laws' were used by the Holy Spirit in answering false teaching (Acts 15:1,5). The line of reasoning used by Peter, Barnabas and Paul, and James convinced the assembly (Acts 15:22, 31). I believe the Holy Spirit gave us the 'laws' of interpreting Scripture." Florida.
In the article mentioned above, which prompted this letter, one of my main points was that God did not reveal in his word "Laws of Interpreting Scripture," from which we may induce and/or deduce "laws of God" and bind them upon everyone as if they were directly commanded from God. Human wisdom invented these so-called "laws of interpretation'' in the last 150 years (i.e., "We establish the authority of Christ (1) by Direct Command, (2) by Apostolic Example, and (3) by Necessary Inference").
Our brother has asked that we study the 15th Chapter of Acts in which, he alleges, can be found a "necessary inference,'' an "apostolic example," and an "express statement.'' We have studied it several times in light of his contention, and still fail to see that it refutes my thesis that God did not reveal "Laws of Interpreting Scripture." Certainly, in the scriptures cited we find an inference, an example, and a conclusion reached, but the Bible abounds with such without hinting that they all should be taken as "laws of God." Will my brother argue that every time we find an "apostolic example" or a "necessary inference," an "express statement," that it binds upon us some "law of God"?
For instance, when the disciples in Jerusalem met "day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple'' (Acts 2:46), along with the apostles, did they leave us a law to meet daily, and must we meet "in the temple"? Why not? Is this not an "apostolic example"? And, could it not be "inferred" that God meant for His people to meet everyday? You say, "Of course not," and I agree. But you say that God has revealed "Laws of Interpretation" that we might know His laws which are binding upon us. Would you now argue that many "examples" and "inferences" are not binding? But who among us will determine "for everyone else" that which is binding and that which is not?
Shall we let the preachers decide what is binding and what is not? In reality, I am afraid we have had far too much of that already.
What about the apostolic example of Acts 3:5? Peter declared, "Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee." Is this an "apostolic example" telling us that preachers of the gospel should not own money? (Can anyone imagine any preacher admitting to that "law"?) Are the examples where disciples sold all their possessions (Acts 2:45; 4:34) revealing some kind of law from God that insists that Christians cannot own properties but must remain in poverty? "Why, of course not," you say. But, you insist, "The Holy Spirit gave us the 'laws' of interpreting Scripture," and from this you infer that some of these "apostolic examples" and "necessary inferences" are binding and some of them are not! Again I ask, "Who will determine the ones that are binding and the ones that are not?"
The doctrine that God has revealed a system for establishing "laws of God" by "apostolic examples" (meaning, only the ones I care to choose), and by "necessary inferences'' (meaning only the ones I care to infer), have led to nothing but "enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings...and such like;" and Paul said "that they who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:20-21). Is it not ironic (and revealing) that the Church of Christ has splintered into dozens of groups, each one using this "infallible system given by God," coming to a myriad of conclusions, and each one claiming with an uncompromising spirit to be the "only true church"!?
Using our invented "laws of interpretation," we have managed to create two or more sides concerning more than one hundred issues that have divided the Churches of Christ over the years.
For instance, people of the Church of Christ have divided over whether one can go to war, or even serve in the military, administer capital punishment, use force to defend one's self or others, take a part in politics, or serve in a governmental capacity; they have fallen out with each other because someone called on a brother from the "other" camp to lead prayer, for permitting an unbaptized boy to lead a congregation in singing hymns, and for allowing a woman to ask a question in the assembly; they have split over differences involving the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit; they have argued endlessly and parted company over using church buildings for secular activities, eating in church buildings, letting neighbors rent space in "church parking lots," buying flowers out of the "Lord's Treasury," singing or reading scriptures as the "bread and fruit of the vine" are being distributed, and taking up a collection on any day but Sunday; they have fought, fussed and fumed over qualifications of deacons, and regarding deaconesses. This doesn't even begin to cover the list, nor does it include such topics as Bible classes, Bible class literature, Lord's Supper cup(s), instrumental music, marriage and divorce, dancing, mixed bathing, card playing, wearing shorts (or slacks), taking oaths, smoking, drinking or gambling.
As I have said, the list goes on and on. Now granted, not everyone who takes part in the "fight" and expresses their opinion on any of these matters, tries to "prove" their argument with an appeal to the Bible (in fact, too many rely on what "their preacher" says about it; the preachers settle all the issues finally), but oftentimes positions are defended on the basis that "here we have an expressed statement, an apostolic example, or a necessary inference." And, that settles it, because that makes it a "law from God." Who said so? God never said that, it is from the imaginations of men.
Things we have fought over through the years are merely the opinions and judgments of mostly preachers, who decide the issues for many of the people. It was so with physical Israel of old; it is so with God's people today. Just like the Pharisees and Scribes, religious leaders of the past several decades, using their own system of ascertaining the "laws of God" have made laws and bound them upon the people and have "made void the word of God...teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt. 15:6,9). The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus' day guarded their traditions with a fervent dedication, and defended them with a "righteous indignation." These "teachers of the Law" were willing to do most anything to protect that which had been passed on to them by their forefathers. They would resort to treachery, hypocrisy, slander and the spreading of malicious lies in the name of God's service, and finally, would put to death God's Son before they would give up their "sacred idols."
"In my opinion, we have been guilty of this same zealous dedication to traditionalism, especially in the last few decades. We thunder out our 'logical deductions' and 'necessary inferences' with the same amount of religious fervor as when we command, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God' etc. We used to be careful to differentiate between that which the Lord commanded and what our own opinion or judgment is on the matter. If the opinion or judgment has been founded around a generation or two, it is placed on a par with a 'thus saith the Lord.' Therefore, we make the same mistake of elevating the traditions of our forefathers to the prominent place of Divine edict, as the Catholic church has done through the centuries."
I wrote the preceding paragraph a year ago. Since then, there have been numerous splits between brethren across the land. What a shame! But such will continue, I am afraid, as long as we ignore plain teaching from God that tells us to "walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" and insist on binding our own opinions and judgments on others to the fracturing of the precious body of our Lord Jesus Christ.