Apostolic Examples Are Binding

By Robert C. Welch

The apostolic examples are to be observed by men today just as in the day when first given. Denominations, digressive people of all kinds, and the human institutional and sponsoring church brethren in particular, attempt to deny the force of such examples. The reason for this is that they do not want to follow these examples. So far as they are concerned they would like to see the examples and the requirement to follow them removed from the Bible. The Methodist hates the example of the apostle Paul and the Colossian saints in their burial in baptism (Col. 2:12); he wants to sprinkle. The digression of the last half of the past century hates the example of Paul and the churches in their joint participation in evangelism; it conflicts with their missionary society. Those brethren today who want the church to support their human institutions of benevolence, education and evangelism hate the examples of churches doing the work themselves with one church sending to another church where the need exists, and the church sending to the evangelist; the examples omit their institutions.

Modernism is the basic attitude behind all of this denial of the authority of approved apostolic example. Some who espouse it may not recognize it, and those who do will not admit it. In fact, very few modernists admit that they are. Modernism denies either the sufficiency or the authoritativeness of the Scriptures, in part or in whole. This basic fallacious attitude toward the Scriptures explains the gradual omission of other requirements when they omit the first scriptural requirement, and the continual addition of unauthorized practices when they include the first addition. There is no stopping place.

A Recent Case

Harold Littrell had recently moved to Blytheville, Arkansas, to try to build an orphan home, Herald of Truth Church, waging a fight against the two churches of the Lord in the town which have made great strides in spreading the gospel there and elsewhere and in harmoniously building up the body in that city. As such men have done ever since Ahab called Elijah the troubler of Israel, he piously claims that he is not causing any trouble but that those who have built the two substantial and active churches are causing trouble!

His basic modernist attitude adequately explains his actions. And he expresses in terse sentence the attitude which is behind the institutional digression of this era. In his bulletin he says: “It has to be assumed that the methods by which Paul was assisted by churches forever limits churches of Christ to the same methods.”

This same modernist attitude has already led many of them to say that the specified day on which the disciples met to break bread is not binding on disciples today. It has led them to deny that the church is limited to praying, singing, teaching, communion and contributing in its assembling and worship. They have added the functions of recreation and entertainment. The same modernist attitude has led them to add to the work of evangelism and assistance to the needy, by putting the church into business and civil politics. As long as this attitude is present, there is neither logical nor practicable limit to that which they will teach and practice.

By Express Command

Emphatically, it does not have to be assumed that the methods by which Paul was assisted by churches forever limits churches of Christ to the same methods. The Bible pointedly stresses that we are to do that which is exemplified by these inspired men. And then it just as pointedly stresses that we are to go no further than their expressed teaching and example.

The book of Hebrews compares the tabernacle of the Old Testament with the church of the New Testament. In one place the book speaks specifically of the structure of the tabernacle and applies it as a type to the care with which we are to follow the inspired description of the church. “Who serve that which is a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses was warned of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern that was showed thee in the mount” (Heb. 8:5). We have a pattern of the church shown us, just as surely as Moses had a pattern of the tabernacle. That pattern is in the New Testament. If this passage does not teach that, it teaches nothing.

Paul himself says: “Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). With such a direct command as that, no one but a modernist could without sense of guilt say that we do not have to follow Paul’s examples.

More specifically, Paul gives an example of his support in evangelism in the book of Philippians, showing that the church at Philippi at one time, but not always Philippi alone, sent to his need. The church gave, he received (Phil. 4:14-17). Almost immediately preceding this example he says: “The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you” (Phil. 4:9). With this command and example presented in the same letter and same chapter, none but a modernist can read it and say that it has to be assumed that the methods by which Paul was assisted by churches forever limits churches of Christ to the same methods. We are commanded to do that which we learn, receive, hear and see in Paul.

Hebrews speaks of those who gave us the revealed word, which is our rule, in this command: “Remember them that had the rule over you, men that spake unto you the word ot God; and considering the issue of their life, imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). The example of their life and faith is given us by them in the word of God; we are commanded to imitate it. The modernist denies this. The man of faith believes, teaches, and imitates their faith.

One of these apostles who has thus lived and given us the example and the charge to follow their examples, places a limitation upon that which we are to teach and practice. Paul expressly says: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Gal. 1:8). This excludes addition to the teaching of the Scriptures concerning churches support of the evangelist, as well as addition to the teaching concerning singing and baptism. This is God’s law of exclusion. No sponsoring church through which a number of churches contribute to the preaching of the gospel is in the teaching and example of the New Testament: God thus excludes it. No benevolent society through which the church functions is given in teaching and examples in the New Testament; God thus excludes it (Gospel Guarthan [26 Sept 1963], pp. 326, 332).

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 13, p. 402
July 5, 1990