Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Answering Common Sense Questions – #13

October 2, 2007

This is the final blog dealing with several supposedly “common sense” questions that a church of Christ preacher or member would allegedly find difficult to answer.  These questions were dreamed up by Mr. David Martin of the Solid Rock Bapist Church and have been widely spread across the internet and are used in debates about the churches of Christ on various christian themed message boards.  The final question which Mr. Martin asks is:

The “Church of Christ” teaches that “obeying the Gospel” includes being baptized in water in order to be saved. If this is true, then how is it that the converts of Acts 10 were saved by faith before and without water baptism? The Bible says in Acts 5:32 that only those who obey God may receive the Holy Ghost – so what did those in Acts 10 do to obey and receive the Holy Ghost and be saved? In the light of Acts 10:34-48, Acts 11:14-18, and Acts 15:7-11, how can anyone honestly believe that water baptism is necessary to salvation? Simon Peter said their hearts were “purified by faith” (Acts 15:9) and that we are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ like they were (Acts 15:11); that is, before and without water baptism! We know that unsaved people do not receive or have the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; Romans 8:9). We know that the Holy Spirit is given only to those who have believed on Christ (John 7:39). We know that the Holy Spirit seals the believing sinner the moment he puts his faith and trust in Christ as Savior, before he is ever baptized in water (Ephesians 1:12,13). How does the warped theolgy of Campbellism explain away these clear passages of Scripture without “muddying the waters” of truth and drowning its members in eternal damnation?

For once Mr. Martin accurately conveys the beliefs fo the churches of Christ that “obeying the gospel” includes water baptism.  In an attempt to disprove this belief he then claims that in Acts 10 the gentiles present were saved before and without water baptism. He makes this claim based on the fact that they recieved the baptism of the Holy Spirit and performed miracles before their water baptism.

First we need to begin by examining Mr. Martin’s claim that only those who obey God may receive the Holy Spirit and that unsaved people never recieve or have the Holy Spirit.  If he is wrong about this claim then his entire argument here fails.  Let us begin by looking at the four verses that he uses to support this statement.

Acts 5:32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

This passage doesn’t help Mr. Martin’s argument as it only says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those that obey him.  If I say that I gave my children gifts on Christmas that does not mean that didn’t give gifts to others as well, I just simply did not mention any others that I may have given gifts to.  So, while this passage is an excellent passage proving that the saved will recieve the Holy Spirit it does nothing to prove the unsaved do not in any way do so.

John 14:17 Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

Here it is important that we notice that Jesus is speaking about the recieving of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  This is an important distinction as we shall see later.  Jesus is telling his disciples here that those of the world will not recieve the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.  If the Spirit is ever recieved in a way that does not involve the indwelling, which we will see later that it has been, then this passage would not apply to that situation.

Romans 8:9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

Once again we see that this is speaking of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit within us and that if God’s Spirit does not dwell in us then we are not his.  Thus we can infer from this that those who are not Christ’s do not have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we see this passage doesn’t indicate that a manner of recieving the Holy Spirit that does not involve its indwelling has not been given to unbelievers.

John 7:39 (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

This passage as with Acts 5:32 only says that believers were going to recieve the Holy Spirit and does not comment one way or the other regarding unbelievers.  Yes believers are going to recieve the Holy Spirit.  This does not mean that there is not nor will there ever be a circumstance under which an unbeliever will in some way recieve the Holy Spirit.

Now that we have examined the passages that Mr. Martin provided let us look at scripture and see if we find any instances where one who is unsaved has recieved the Holy Spirit or performed miracles by the Spirit?  Caiaphas the high priest prophesied about the death of Jesus (John 11:49) before he and the others had Christ put to death and according to Peter all prophecy is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20).  Thus we see here one person who was unsaved yet recieved the gift of prophecy by the Holy Spirit.  Baalam’s donkey recieved the spirit and spoke to Balaam (Numbers 22:28). Would Mr. Martin argue that this was a saved donkey?  So the idea that the spirit is never recieved in any way by the unsaved is untrue.  However, the Spirit did not dwell within either Caiaphas or the donkey.  Thus we see there is a difference between recieving the Holy Spirit in such a way as to perform miracles and recieving the spirit to live within us.

To further demonstrate this point let us consider the Samaritans that were converted by Philip’s preaching (Acts 8:5-12).  At this point they had believed and been baptized thus according to Peter they had recieved the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the seal of our salvation (2 Corinthians 1:22, Ephesians 1:13).  Yet we find that they had not yet recieved the miraculous manifestation of the Holy Spirt as displayed by those who recieve Spirit baptism (Acts 8:14-17). So we see that recieving the indwelling presence of the Spirit as a seal of our salvation and recieving the miraculous manifestation of the Spirit are two different things.  According to John 14:17 and Romans 8:9 only the saved receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as a seal of their salvation but there is no such passage regarding the miraclous manifestation of the Spirit.

So were Cornelius and his household saved when they recieved the baptism of the Spirit?  The first thing to note is that Cornelius was told to send for Peter and that Peter would tell him what he must do (Acts 10:6) and speak words by which he and his household would be saved (Acts 11:14).  In Luke’s account of the events he says that while Peter was speaking the Holy Spirit fell upon the Gentiles, however, he does not specify at what point in Peter’s speech this happened (Acts 10:44).  Peter, on the other hand, when he recounted the events for the Jews back home described the events in order (Acts 11:4).  Peter says that as he began to speak the Spirit fell upon the Gentiles (Acts 11:15).  Thus if this reception of the Holy Spirit was a sign of their salvation then they were saved before hearing the words by which they were supposed to be saved. Furthermore, Peter doesn’t mention Christ or explain the gospel until the end of his speech (Acts 10:38-40). Thus if these people were saved upon being baptized with the Holy Spirit then it was without believing in Christ or hearing the gospel, which Paul says is the power of salvation (Romans 16:16).  Finally Peter states that this baptism of the Spirit had not occured since the beginning, the day of Pentecost, until then (Acts 11:15).  So this was not a common occurance that happened to all Christians as is the reception of the indwelling Spirit as a seal of our salvation but was a seperate event for a particular purpose.   On the day of Pentecost the baptism of the Holy Spirit was given to establish God’s church and open its doors to the Jews.  In Acts 10 the same baptism of the Spirit, which had not occured since as seen above,  was poured out upon the Gentiles in order to open the doors to them as well.  In neither instance was salvation the intended purpose of the Spirit baptism.  Thus Cornelius and his house were not saved before and without water baptism but were saved when they believed the gospel preached by Peter and baptized in water as he commanded them (Acts 10:48).


Answering Common Sense Questions – #3

July 30, 2007

In the past few articles I have been addressing common sense questions that David Martin of the Solid Rock Baptist Church claims members of the church of Christ cannot answer clearly.  In this aritcle we will examining the third question that Mr. Martin poses.  The question is:

If the water pipes broke and the baptistry was bone dry, would my salvation have to wait until the plumber showed up? If I were to die before then, would I go to hell? If obedience to water baptism is the means of forgiveness of sins, then I would.

Once again we see that Mr. Martin has completely abandoned common sense with his question in spite of the claim that these are “common sense questions”.  We need only, as before, apply Mr. Martin’s logic to other biblical concepts to see how illogical this question is.  Remember that faith comes from hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17) and faith is certainly essential to salvation (Mark 16:16).  So what would happen if someone who had never heard about Jesus went to the local Bible book store but it was closed so he couldn’t buy a Bible. Would he have to wait until the store opened to be saved?  This individual could, of course, go to another store, a church, or even Wal-Mart to find a Bible and hear about Jesus Christ.  Likewise the individual wanting to be baptized but the pipe is broke could go to another church, a swimming pool or even a river or lake.  If he person who went to the closed Bible store were to die before he was able to hear God’s word would he then go to hell?  If hearing God’s word is necessary for forgiveness of sins then yes. 

I am sure Mr. Martin if asked whether one who had never had the opportunity to hear God’s word is saved would respond that in such an extreme case God is ultimately the judge.  Only God knows if the person truly had the opportunity to hear and just didn’t take the opportunity, whether or not there were other extenuating circumstances, and whether or not the man should justly be condemned to hell in light of these considerations.  However, I am also sure that Mr. Martin would never teach that because of some extreme hypothetical circumstance that it is not necessary to hear God’s word to be saved as he does with baptism.  Just as with hearing only God can determine if someone has had the opportunity to obey him in baptism, whether or not there were other extenuating circumstances and whether or not such a person should be justly condemned to hell in light of such circumstances.  However, such an extreme hypothetical circumstance does not negate the essentiality of baptism to salvation.  The rule is that baptism is required for forgivness of sins and the exceptions are up to God.

Music In Worship

May 11, 2007

Music has always been an integral part of the lives of God’s people.  When the children of Israel were freed from Egyptian captivity they sang praises to God on the banks of the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1).  When King David was confronted with his sin with Bathsheba he composed a psalm to express his repentance to God(Psalms 51).  Throughout Biblical history God’s people have always used song to express the depth of their feelings for God. 

Today God’s people still honor and praise him with song.  However, there are differing beliefs on how music should be used in service to God.  Some believe that both singing and musical instruments should be used in the worship.  Others believe that no musical instruments should be used in the assembly and some even go so far as to say they are not permissible in praise to God at any time in or out of the assembly.  None of this, however, is up to men.  What matters is what God has said about the issue.  Has God given us instruction on how we are to use music in his service?

A Review of Biblical Authority

It is important that we understand the way the bible authorizes things to be done before we can even begin to answer questions such as this one.  The Bible contains many passages emphasizing that we are to obey the direct commands of God (Leviticus 22:31, 1 John 2:3).  Likewise, there are many passages that command that the examples set by the Christ, the apostles and the early church are to be followed (Philippians 3:17, 1 Peter 2:21).  There are also passages where Christ and the apostles came to conclusions about God’s will based on necessary inferences (Mark 12:18-27, Hebrews 7:1-10). 

Thus we see through the means of commands, examples and necessary inferences God provides authority for the things we are to believe and practice.  This authority comes in two forms, generic authority and specific authority.  An example of generic authority is contained in Matthew 28:19 when Jesus commanded the disciples to go teach all nations.  He did not specify what type of transportation they were to take but only said go teach.  An commonly used example of specific authority is found in Genesis 6:14 where Noah was commanded to build an ark of gopherwood.  Here by direct command Noah is given authority to build an ark but that it must be built of gopherwood.  All other forms of wood were excluded when God specified the type of wood that Noah was to use.

We must keep these concepts in mind as we look at the authority for worshipping God musically.  Has God given any commands regarding our musical worship toward him.  Do we have any examples in scripture of the early church worshipping God musically?  Are there any necessary inferences that can be drawn from scripture regarding our musical worship to God?  Is any authority governing our musical worship generic or specific in nature?

Music in the Old Testament

As already noted men and women in the Old Testament often praised and worshipped God with music.  When the children of Israel sang and praised God on the banks of the Red Sea we find that Miriam and all the women went out with tambourines and danced as they sang.  From this we can certainly conclude that God was not displeased with the playing of the tambourines and dancing.  In fact we see no instruction from God on how musical worship was to be carried out until David, with God’s approval, appointed musicians in the temple (1 Chronicles 16:4-6, 2 Chronicles 19:25-27).  Here we see that four types of instruments were now specifically authorized to be used in the temple worship; psalteries (also called lyres), harps, trumpets and cymbals.  Would it have been acceptable then, at that point, to continue to use the tambourine since God had not specifically ordered them not to be used?  Could one of the Levite musicians have made the argument that since it Miriam had used a tambourine and was obviously pleasing to God that it must still be acceptable to use?  We easily see in both cases that since God had now specified the instruments he wanted to be used in the temple worship that the tambourine was then forbidden as was any other instrument other than the psaltery, harp, trumpet and cymbal.  Likewise we today cannot continue to use the musical instruments allowed under the Old Testament if they have since been forbidden or excluded by a specific command.

Music in the New Testament

There are also examples of musical worship in the New Testament as well.   We find that shortly before his betrayal Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn (Matthew 26:30).  We are not told whether or not there was instrumental accompaniment.  We also see that Paul and Silans sang praises to God while imprisoned for preaching the gospel (Acts 16:25).  Because they were in prison we can assume that they had no musical instruments available but this says nothing toward whether or not musical instruments would have been acceptable.  So the example that has been set by Christ and the apostles is that we are to worship God with music.  So has God given us instruction on how this is to be carried out?

When giving instruction on how the worship assembly is to be conducted Paul commanded that singing be done with spirit and understanding (1 Corinthians 14:15).  When we sing in the worship assembly we should certainly sing with heartfelt emotion but also we should understand what we are singing.  In this same chapter Paul instructs that whether it be singing, teaching or anything else in the assembly it is to be done for the purpose of edification or teaching the gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:26).  Thus our musical worship to God should be done for the purpose of edifying our brethren.  Notice that Paul here is specifically addressing practice of  multiple speakers or singers acting at the same time.  He admonishes that all things are to be done decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40).  So our musical worship to God is to be orderly and decently.  This necessarily infers some means or system for keeping things this way.  An example of one way to achieve this is by using a songbook so that everyone knows what song to sing and is able to follow along with the song.  As with any thing we do we must first determine if the Bible expressly forbids their use or if it would be excluded by a specific command.  Nowhere in the Bible are songbooks forbidden and we find that there is no command given that would exclude their use and so we find that we are authorized to use them in fulfilling this command to keep our singing decent and orderly.

In writing to the Ephesians Paul commanded that they were to speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; singing and making melody in their hearts to God (Ephesians 5:19).  This coincides perfectly with what Paul instructed in 1 Corinthians 14 that our singing is to be done for the purpose of edifying.  Here he instructs he instructs that Christians are to be speaking, or teaching, one another in song.  It is clear that Paul is here giving instructions for when Christians are gathered together in worship.   A lot has been made of the Greek word psallontes which is translated as “make melody”.  It is often argued the word carries the meaning of playing an instrument.  It should be noticed that Paul here is addressing all Christians and is giving them two commands, to sing and psallontes.  These are not options that we can choose to do or not.  Thus, if the word psallontes means to play an instrument then all Christians are obligated to do so.   Also we must note that the the action of psallontes is taking place on the heart not.   So not only does the use of musical instruments violate the command that everything done should be for teaching one another but also the command that every Christian is to be making music in our hearts not on an external instrument.

Similarly Paul also instructs the Colossians that they are to teach one another through their singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16).  Here  again we see that he is speaking to Christians who are assembled and thus are to edify one another.  This is not a command for the individual in his car or home.  Once again we note that this a command to all Christians.  Note that this time he commands that he singing is to be accompanied by grace, or favour, in your heart to the Lord.  We have no trouble recognizing that having grace in our hearts is not something that we do outwardly but is an inward action.   This helps us to understand that in Ephesians 5:19 where we are told psallontes in our hearts to the Lord that this is not an action performed outwardly but inwardly.

Instruments in Heaven

Some have used the fact that in the book of Revelation there are scenes where instruments of music are used in heaven as proof that musical instruments are acceptable in our worship services today (Revelation 5:8, Revelation 14:2, Revelation 15:2).  First we must realize that the book of Revelation is symbolic in nature and thus is not proof that there will be real and literal musical instruments in heaven.  We also must remember that just as tambourines were acceptable for Miriam and the Hebrew women but were not for those living after the time of David we cannot take something that is acceptable in another age and apply it to our worship today.  So even if there will be literal musical instruments in heaven that does not give us reason to violate the command of God concerning our musical worship today.

Our Musical Worship

When we look at the teaching of the Bible on this matter God has made his wishes perfectly clear.  When we gather for our worship assemblies our musical worship should consist of singing without physical instrumental accompaniment but rather be accompanied by music made within our hearts.  Outside of the worship assembly God has given no command on how we are to praise and honor him through our music and thus we are free to include instruments of music at that time.

Morality Without God

April 13, 2007

A recent course I took on ethics has had me thinking a great deal about the source of morality. How are we to determine what is and is not ethical or moral behavior without some absolute standard. Those familiar with the debate between atheists and Christians on the existence of God are no doubt familiar with the argument that without God there can be no basis for morality. Of course atheists in general deny this accusation. Many arguments are offered to explain how morality can be determined without the necessity for God.

The Euthyphro Dilemma

One such argument is what has become known as the Euthyphro dilemma. The question is asked whether something is immoral because God has forbidden it or if God has forbidden it because it is immoral. For example; is rape immoral because God forbade it and it would otherwise be acceptable or did God forbid it because it is inherently immoral.

The problem with this argument is that it assumes that certain actions, such as murder, are inherently immoral and thus prove that there is no need for God to declare them so. However, how can the atheist posing the question prove that? If he argues that rape is immoral because it causes suffering and violates a persons right to control their own body he must prove that those consequences are evil. Eventually in order to prove the immorality of rape one must provide some absolute and infallible standard. If the standard were not absolute then one could argue that rape is ok under certain circumstances. If it is not infallible then it could be argued that the standard was wrong in determining rape to be immoral. So then what would you call this standard that is capable of absolutely and infallibly determining morality? Is that not an excellent description of God? Thus the question itself emphasizes the point that without God there can be no morality.

Natural Morality

Another argument used by atheists is that we see moral behavior in animals. They delight in pointing out that in nature we see animals caring for their young, defending one another, and engaging in other such behavior. If animals learned and developed such moral behavior without the need of religion then obviously religion is not needed for morality. Anyone who takes even a moment to ponder this argument can see right away the fatal flaw. There are also many animals that eat their young, viciously attack even others of their own kind, and other similar behaviors. Why are the first set of behaviors set up as moral and not the second? Who decided that caring for ones young was moral or good? How would one be able to prove which type of behavior is good and should be emulated and which should not? Again we come down to the need for an absolute and infallible standard.

Moral Atheists and Immoral Christians

Finally there is the argument that since many people claiming to be Christians do very immoral things while many atheists behave very morally religion must not be needed and indeed is detrimental to morality. The problem with this argument is that when we look at Christians behaving immorally we find that they are doing so in contradiction of the beliefs they claim to hold. For instance a Christian that lies is by his actions contradicting his belief in the Bible because the Bible commands us not to lie (Colossians 3:9). In fact how can the atheist even argue that the actions of a Christian are immoral? Upon what basis do they make that judgement? What standard is he judging the Christian by? He must borrow from the Christian worldview in order to make such a judgement.

On the other hand an atheist in claiming to live morally is acting in contradiction to his stated beliefs. An atheist must borrow Christian terms and ideas in order to even claim to be acting morally. If an atheist were asked how he lives morally he may answer that he is honest, tolerant, etc… What makes those behaviors moral? How would one prove that the atheist who exhibits these behaviors is more moral than a Christian who does not?

I’m sure that there are many other arguments that are used by atheists in their attempts to prove that morality is possible without God. However, just like these arguments it is impossible for them to prove what is an isn’t moral. In order to make that judgement an absolute and infallible standard is eventually required and atheism can’t produce one.


February 21, 2007

Tolerance seems to be a word we hear alot these days.  We are constantly urged to be tolerant of other cultures, races, genders, religions, etc…  Attempts are made to educate children from the earliest ages to be tolerant and accepting of others that are different from themselves. At first glance this seems to be a noble goal.  However, what is often overlooked is the fact that tolerance and acceptance are being used synonymously. Rather than tolerance being taught as the practice of treating others with respect and dignity regardless of our differences it is being taught as accepting all differences as being equal in value.  There is no room in the religion of tolerance for those that regard certain cultures, lifestyles, or religions as being inherently inferior or wrong.

Even many who call themselves Christians are being drawn into this point of view.  This point of view is one of the reason that so many denominations exist.  We are told that we should be tolerant of all beliefs and accept that all beliefs are of equal value.  Likewise non-Christians argue that their beliefs should be tolerated and accepted as being the equal of Christianity.  Homosexuals demand that we be tolerant of their lifestyle and accept it as being equal with that of heterosexuals. 

However, it is not man’s right to decide these things for himself.  We must look to God’s word to find out what He wants us to tolerate and accept and what he does not.  Does God wish us to accept all of the worlds religions as equal to Christianity?  Does he want us to accept  all of the denominational flavors of Christianity as being equally valid?  Are we as Christians to view all lifestyles and conduct as acceptable?


First it must be noted that the question is whether or not some beliefs and practices should not be tolerated. The question is not whether or not Christians should love those who hold to  or do these things.  In 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul describes a very religious person who does not possess love and states that everything they do is in vain.  As a Christian we must love everyone regardless of differences in culture, belief, gender, race, lifestyle, etc…  Christ consistantly taught that the greatest commandments given were to love God and our fellow man (Matthew 23:37-40).  He even taught that Christians are to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44).  Unfortunately there are many who call themselves Christians who have allowed their zeal for God to manifest itself in hatred for those things that they see as contrary to God’s word but this has never been and never will be acceptable to God.

Respect and Dignity

Also the question is not whether or not others with beliefs and practices that are different from our own should be treated with respect and dignity.  Christ has commanded Christians to treat others as they themselves wish to be treated (Matthew 7:12).  We are also commanded to treat all men with honor or respect (1 Peter 2:17).  Also Peter commands that when we give an answer for what we believe and practices that we do so with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15) not being overbearing or browbeating others.  So as a Christian we must treat all men, regardless of our differences, with respect and dignity.

Things A Christian Must Not Tolerate.

  • That there is any way to God other than through Jesus Christ

Jesus taught that he was the way, the truth, and the life and that he was the ONLY way to God (John 14:6).  In Acts 4:12 we are told that there is no salvation in anyone but Jesus.  Other religions are not equally valid and acceptable.  As a Christian holding to the principles discussed above we are certainly to love and respect those in other religions but we cannot approve of and agree with their beliefs. 

  • False teaching or practices regarding Christ and his church

Christians are also taught that they are not to tolerate false teaching regarding Christ and his church.  In Galatians 1:7-9 Paul commands that anyone teaching a doctrine other than what the apostles had initially delivered is to be rejected.  In 2 John 1:10-11 Christians are commanded not to allow one teaching a false doctrine into their home or even wish them success in their endeavor.  In fact Christians are commanded to actively oppose false teachings. We are told to contend for our faith (Jude 3) and Paul instructed Titus that the mouths of false teachers had to be stopped, not by physical means but by confronting false teaching with the truth (Titus 1:9-11).

  • Lifestyles and practices that violate God’s word

As Christians we are told to separate ourselves from those that practice evil (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).  We are warned that evil company will corrupt us (1 Corinthians 15:33).   In Psalms 1:1 David proclaims that happy is the person that does not keep company with or accept advice from those that pratice sinful activities.  Further Christians not only are commanded to remain seperate from those engaging in sinful practices but must also speak out against such practices (Ephesians 5:11).  For a Christian acceptance is not an option. Once again, however, this must be done in a spirit of meekness and love.

The Bible clearly teaches that there are things that Christians cannot tolerate and the world percieves this as a grevious crime.  Peter warns that the world would not understand our reasons for our intolerance (1 Peter 4:1-4).  Many today think it strange that you can claim to love someone yet not accept their actions and beliefs.  A brief example though may help to shed light on the Christians view.

If a loved one were lying down the middle of a highway you would most likely warn them that they are in grave danger of being struck by a vehicle and killed.  If they insisted that they did not believe that they were in any danger and that you should respect their belief and simply accept thier decision to stay where they are it is unlikely that you would do so.  I believe that any of us would do everything in our power to convince them to get out of the dangerous situation they had placed themselves in and would not stop urging them to leave the dangerous situation until either they agreed or it was to late. 

Likewise a Christian percieves those who are not Christians to be in great peril.  A Christian honestly and sincerely believes that non-Christians are lost and will suffer an eternity of pain if they die in that condition and cannot stand that thought.  Therefore a Christian will not stop trying to urge those who hold other beliefs and practices to leave what they see as a gravely dangerous situation.  For most Christians this is not out of disrespect or hatred but out of true love and compassion for another individual.

Biblical Authority

February 2, 2007

I have written previously about the call of the apostle Paul for unity in the church.  He instructed early Christians to believe and practice the same things (1 Corinthians 1:10).  The Bible clearly teaches that the denominational model is not what Christ had in mind for his church.  So how have all of these denominations come about?  Why do we have so many different groups offering contradictory doctrines?  It all boils down to a failure to understand the concept of biblical authority and a failure to establish biblical authority for everything that is believed or practiced. 

Two extremes based on scriptural silence

Some argue that unless the Bible specifically forbids something that it is acceptable for us to do it.  They believe that anything is allowable unless there is a “Thou shall not” in the scriptures concerning it.  In other words they view biblical silence as permissive.  In Leviticus 10:1-2 the Bible tells us of Nadab and Abihu the sons of Aaron who took fire from an unauthorized source that God had no commanded and used it to burn incense. The command from God was that the fire used to burn incense was to be taken from the coals under the altar.  God did not need to say “Thou shat not” use fire made by rubbing two sticks together, from flint and stone, from a Bic lighter, etc…  By specifying exactly what he wanted everything else was excluded by default.    In 2 Chronicles 26:16-19 King Uzziah had decided to go into the temple and burn incense.  The priests confronted him and told him that he had no authority to do this and that only the sons of Aaron were authorized to burn the incense.  They recognized that God did not have to specifically forbid the king from burning incense because by commanding that the sons of Aaron were to do so everyone else was excluded by default.  Thus we see that the lack of a specific command not to do something does not automatically make it acceptable.

On the other hand there are those who argue that unless the Bible specifically commands to do a thing that it is not allowed.  They believe that nothing is allowable unless there is a “Thou shall” concerning it in the scriptures.  In other words they view biblical silence as prohibitive.  In Acts 4:34-37 we find that many of the early disciples sold all their possessions and gave them to the church.  There is no “Thou shall” command in the New Testament commanding them to do this.  Peter told Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:4 that they should not have lied about how much they sold their land for because it was their own and up to them whether to sell it an how much of the proceeds to give and that  their error was in lying.  Though there was no specific command for any of these early Christians to sell all of their possessions and donate them to the church it was certainly acceptable to do so.  In Genesis 8:20-21 we find that after exiting the ark that Noah built an altar and offered sacrifices to God and that the Lord was pleased with them.  However, God had not commanded Noah to make such a sacrifice. 

The middle ground of truth: Specific and Generic authority

As we can see from scripture both of these extremes contradict the plain teaching of the word of God.  The truth lies between the two. God has said that we are neither to add to his word nor are we to take away from it (Deuteronomy 4:2, Revelation 22:18-19).  The permissive silence argument takes away from God’s word by ignoring his specific commands and the prohibitive silence argument adds to his word by binding prohibitions upon his people he has not commanded.  Instead when God has given a specific authority on how, what, when, and where to do something we are obligated to follow his specifications exactly and anything else is to be excluded, otherwise we are at liberty to use our best judgment.  For instance, when Noah was commanded to build the ark he was told to build it of gopher wood (Genesis 6:14).  This is an example of specific authority and it excluded the use of oak, birch, pine, or any type of wood other than gopher wood.  However, God did not tell him how to cut down the trees so Noah was at liberty to use an ax, saw, or any other type of tool to accomplish that task, this is an example of generic authority.  Noah was told to make three stories in the ark and thus could not have stopped at two or built four or more, again this is an example of specific authority.  However, as far as we know, God did not say how many rooms to put in each story or how many animal stalls and so Noah was at liberty in these areas, this is an example of generic authority.  It is important that we understand the difference between specific and general authority when establishing biblical authorization for our beliefs and practices. 
How authority is establishd:  CENI

Besides understanding the concept and proper role of biblical silence in interpreting the
Bible it is also necessary to understand how God specifically authorizes what we believe and practice.  He does this in three ways: by direct command, authorized example, and necessary inference.  This is often given the acronym CENI.  I have often been asked to show where in the Bible it mentions CENI.  While the acronym will be found no where in scripture the concept of commands, examples and necessary inference is clearly taught.

Direct Command

I’m sure we all understand that when God has given us a direct command we are obligated to obey that command.  In 1 Corinthians 14:37 Paul has just written to the Corinthian church and instructed them on how to conduct their worship assemblies and tells them that these things are commands of Christ.  Paul also urged the Thessalonians to continue walking in the commands of God that he had delivered to them (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2).  So we see that Christ has indeed given direct commands for things we are supposed to do and teach.

Authorized Example

Another way in which the Bible gives authority is through example.  Paul wrote to the Philippians urging them to follow the example that the apostles had set (Philippians 3:17). Paul again tells the Thessalonians that they are to follow his example (2 Thessalonians 3:9). Peter tells us that Christ left us an example of how we ought to live and act (1 Peter 2:21).  So how are we to know when an example is binding and when it is not?  For instance the Bible tells us that Judas, an apostle, went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:5)?  Is that something that we are to bind as a part of our worship to God?  Of course we realize that we are not supposed to follow this example.  A rule of thumb regarding examples is that when we have an example related to a generic command that this example is binding.  For instance we have a generic command to partake of the Lord’s Supper but there is no specific command as to how often.  However, in Acts 20:7 we see an example that the early church did this on the first day of the week.  Thus we realize by their example how the Holy Spirit inspired apostles were leading them in fulfilling that command and that we must follow this example in our practices today.

Necessary Inference

Most people easily understand the first two concepts of commands and examples but have problems with the concept of necessary inference.  A necessary inference is an inescapable conclusion based on facts.  Jesus used necessary inference when debating the Sadducees about the resurrection.  He inferred from the fact that God said “I AM” the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and that God is not God of the dead but the living that therefore Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were living thus there must be a resurrection (Mark 12:18-27).  In Hebrews 7:1-10 the writer infers from the fact that Abraham offered tithes to Melchizedek and the lesser pays tithes to the greater that Christ’s priesthood is greater than that of Aaron.

One thing we must be careful not to do is establish doctrine based on unnecessary inference.  This is when the facts might be explained by more than one conclusion.  For instance, some have read John 21:22 where Jesus, answering Peter’s question about what was to become of John, and inferred from Christ’s answer that John would not die.  However, another inference that could be drawn from this is that Jesus is simply telling Peter to mind his own business.  Many times one of my children will come whining about something one of their siblings is doing and I will respond, “What difference does it make to you?”  Similarly Jesus is simply asking Peter what difference it makes to him even if John lived Christ returned.  We must take care to avoid such unnecessary inferences.

By recognizing these biblical principles of specific and generic authority and various ways by which that authority is established many misunderstandings and misinterpretations of scripture can be avoided.  This would result in less division and more unity among those professing the Christian faith.